Edinburgh 2006
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The Theatreguide.London Reviews
EDINBURGH 2006

Each August the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe bring thousands of shows to the largest and most concentrated arts event in the world. No one can see more than a fraction, but with an expanded review team that included Edinburgh veterans Duska Radosavljevic and Philip Fisher, we managed to review more than 175. Virtually all toured after Edinburgh, and many came to London during the following year.

Our reviews originally covered several pages, but we've squeezed them into two for this archive. They're in alphabetical order (solo performers by last name), with A-L on this page, and M-Z on another. So scroll down for what you want, or just browse.



Terry Alderton - American Vaudeville - Anything to Declare? - An Asylum on Every Corner - Audience - Baggage - Bajazet - Beginner's Guide to the Fringe - David Benson - Bird Flue Diaries - Bitches and Money - The Black Sheep - Black Watch - Bloggers - Brick Walls - Jane Bussmann - Cabin Fever - Cambridge Footlights - Pat Candaras - Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Scott Capurro - Caviar and Chips - Charlotte the Destroyer - Clean Alternatives - Clinically Famous - Chris Cox - Creena DeFoouie - Crunch! - Cutlery Wars - Rhys Darby - The Dark Show - The Deluge - Devil's Advocate - Did Priya Pathak Ever Get Her Wallet Back? - Divino Pastor Gongora - DJ Danny - Don Quixote - Doom Riders - Ella, Meet Marilyn - End of the Rainbow - Fahrenheit 451 - Finer Noble Gases - Fish Story - Tim Fitzhigham - Flanders and Swann - Floating - Flood - Food - Fool - Four Play - Foor Poofs and a Piano - Gamarjobat - The Garden - Girl Blog From Iraq - Pauline Goldsmith - The Goodies - Goodness - Greedy - Hairdresser in the House - Natalie Haynes - Hedda Gabler - Hello Dalai - Hillary Agonistes - The Hood - How to Explain the History of Communism - Huge - Hyenas - Hysteria - (I Am) Nobody's Lunch - Improbable Frequency - In Pursuit of Cardenio - Inside Cherry Pitz - Insomnibabble - Janka - Jesus: The Guantanamo Years - Jimmy James - Johnny Boskak Is Feeling Funny - Ketzal - Shappi Khorsandi - Killing Time - Daniel Kitson - Klepto - The Kransky Sisters - Lady Chatterley's Lover - Andrew Lawrence - Levelland - The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches - Little Red Things - Long Life - Love: The Radio Edit - Love Labours Won - Love Remains

Terry Alderton - Divinely Discontented Pleasance - A short film, possibly award-winning if anyone's interested, opens the show as Terry Alderton in a variety of guises offer us an exclusive 'blokecast'. Edgy editing and a garage soundtrack help make this one of the most surreal experiences you'll have without the aid of drugs. And then on bounds Alderton who promptly makes you wonder whether you had taken the drugs after all. Working his way through the audience by nationality and region may seem conventional, but not when the comic spends most of his time, back to the audience, discussing with his demons who should be his next victim. 'Find the Glaswegian!' instructs a satanic bass rasp. 'I will challenge him!' affirms a high-pitched Gollum. The innocent smile on Alderton's face as he turns round sends a delicious ripple of anticipation through the hall. He thinks so quickly on his feet - and effortlessly keeps the audience up to speed - that the stand-up routines themselves almost seem to be incidental links. They still get deserved laughs: analysing the comparative unintelligibility of Geordie versus Glaswegian, bemoaning the creaks his body makes at the advanced age of 35, the three stages of inebriation when fumbling to get in late at night, how Ibiza deejays rate with what's going down at the local church hall bash. Nick Awde

American Vaudeville  Pleasance Dome - This promising but ultimately disappointing two-hander inexplicably doesn't seem to know its own strengths. Creator-performers Jon Morris and Scott Nankivel present the show as a loving salute to vaudeville, the vastly popular little-bit-of-everything entertainment form that flourished in the USA from about the 1880s to the 1930s (around the same time as and, allowing for cultural differences, similar to British music hall). The first fifteen minutes or so of the show is a fast-moving anthology of typical vaudeville acts, from tightrope walkers and spoon players to a short melodrama and a man who imitates chickens. But then the show shifts gears, following the backstage adventure of a pair of song-and-dance men. You've seen this story in a dozen 1940s movies - they become successful, fight over a girl, etc. - but worse than the lack of originality is the fact that the plot scenes are far, far less fun than the stuff that came before. The energy level of the show drops disastrously as it drags on to a downbeat ending, and you leave wishing they had just done more of what they started with. Gerald Berkowitz

Anything to Declare? C Cubed - New Zealander Mel Dodge spent the Kiwi equivalent of a gap year backpacking through Europe and had lots of adventures. She wondered at Italian art and was groped by Italian men, went clubbing in London and slept with a Canadian guy she never saw again, met a whore and a football yob and an old lady, got homesick and phoned home, had her backpack stolen - stuff like that. They're the same sort of tales any traveller could tell, and therein lies the problem. Dodge seems a pleasant enough person, and no doubt she has told these stories to her loved ones back home, and no doubt they all found her adventures fascinating. But in turning them into a solo theatre piece she has not turned them into art. The episodes have not been given any meaning beyond the fact that they happened or organised into any shape beyond the order in which they occurred. Dodge is not a good enough actress to make the various other characters come alive, and she lacks the energy or force of personality that might have disguised those limitations. The show remains just a collection of it-happened-to-me anecdotes, which does not make for satisfying theatre. Gerald Berkowitz

An Asylum on Every Corner C too - A musical is rarely chosen as the form for exploring mental illness, but then again this particular musical is more of an exploration of the society's attitudes towards it. James Michalos wrote book, music and lyrics, and also directs, and his tightly structured narrative starts off with the arrival of a new doctor into Ashford Dell, which happens to coincide with the owner Dr Zanders' simultanously growing temptation to turn his care-home into a business. Nurse Liberty Flecher's own personal agenda in relation to her boss doesn't seem to help matters either. Meanwhile the stories of the patients and their journeys here are given to us in a combination of flashbacks and cabaret-style storytelling. Individually, members of the cast are uneven in their acting and characterisation skills, although seeing it this late in the run, their performance comes across as really slick. However there is one area where they all work together as clockwork. The main strength of this show is contained in the team's excellent musical skills on every level, from imaginative arrangements to beautiful choral and solo renditions. And in a musical, that really is what matters. Duska Radosavljevic

Audience  Augustine's - Michael Frayn's one-act comedy is the playwright's fantasy, an opportunity to vent his frustration at all those audiences who didn't have the taste to be completely enraptured by his plays. What we see onstage is an audience looking at us, but it is an audience made up entirely of those annoying people who always sit just behind me. There are the two ladies who chatter about their shopping, the tourists so jet-lagged they're not sure where they are, the aesthete who spends the play pooh-poohing under his breath (when he's not planning to seduce the dishy young man with him), and so on. Of course someone comes in late, of course someone's cell phone goes off, of course a call-and-response series of coughs bounce around the house. And with the author present to be tormented by all this, they miss all his best jokes and laugh at his serious moments. Michael Frayn is expert enough to know just how long he can sustain this jape, and the play does not outstay its welcome. It also proves a totally accessible vehicle for the non-professional BigVillage Theatre Company, who have a ball with it. Gerald Berkowitz

Baggage Pleasance - Two men who can only communicate through indirection have an uneasy encounter in Jonnie Fielding's short play, which is so elliptical that it sometimes seems like a middle chapter of a novel we have not been allowed to read the rest of. A schizophrenic father has broken into his adult son's home and attacked him, and now tries to make amends but can only do so by talking about everything but what has happened, while the wary son keeps his emotional distance. But through talk of an American trip that may never have happened, some connection is made, allowing them to part in peace. Communicating to an audience through characters who can't communicate to each other is an ambitious undertaking, and for too much of the play what is meant to be ambiguity in speech, characterisation and motivations is just confusing and confused. The author's difficulty in establishing a sense of reality is compounded by his choice as director to have Adam Burton as the father mug and signify as broadly as a silent film actor while Stephen Sobal completely underplays the son. Gerald Berkowitz

Bajazet Baby Belly - The truism that all that is necessary for theatre is a plank is exemplified by this thoroughly satisfying production of Racine's tragedy, performed on a bare stage with the minimum of effects, but with a cast and director who understand the play and present it with clarity and power. Other directors and companies who consider it their job to interpose themselves between author and audience could learn a lot from Double Edge Drama and director Edward Behrens' success here. Racine's tragedy is characteristically built on the conflict between politics and passions, with the latter inevitably proving dangerous. In the absence of an unpopular sultan, a rebellion takes shape around his brother, Bajazet. The support of the Sultaness Roxanne is essential and, since she loves Bajazet, seemingly assured. But Bajazet and the court lady Atalide are in love, and while she encourages him to pretend love for Roxanne, his honour won't let him, and after some twists and reversals all three are dead. In Alan Hollinghurst's robust translation this classical drama plays as very real and recognisable, and the decision to put it in unadorned modern dress contributes to a sense of immediacy. Once the necessary exposition is out of the way, with James Clapp as the rebel leader doing better than one might think possible with a scene of convoluted back-story, both the immediate turmoil of the three central characters and Racine's warnings against the incompatibility of emotion and politics become very real, involving and moving. Juliet Crawford's Roxanne is all woman, driven by her passions with little interest in statecraft or even power except for how it can be used to gain her romantic ends or punish those who frustrate her. Tom Stourton's Bajazet may be a little too contemporary and informal in his playing, so that his commitment to honour in the face of failure and death doesn't quite ring true. But Charlie Covell's Atalide is the backbone of the play, combining a believable and touching love with the strength of will to sacrifice her happiness for her lover's gain, and it is appropriate that she gets the final scene, facing death with chilling dignity. Gerald Berkowitz

A Beginner's Guide to the Fringe C Central - Alpha and Beta (otherwise known as Paul Beeson and Gemma Ryan) bound onstage to cheerily announce that their mission is to inform an unsuspecting public on how to survive August in Edinburgh. It proves to be a winning formula - you won't find a tighter script on the fringe, nor one that is more relevantly irreverant. The tour kicks off with a bitingly funny guide to fending off performers with flyers up the Royal Mile (rule no. 1: 'Never take a flyer, it gives them hope') before diving into a wickedly observed string of takes every cliched genres in the programme. Bobo the Clown and wife do Macbeth, in the process slaughtering everyone in the circus, the audience suggestion of a GUM clinic unleashes an improv routine that is whittled down to a single wicked second. Which leads me to the point that the disconcerting thing about ABGTTF is that their spoofs are not only successful satires but work as impressive pieces of theatre in their own right. Beeson's dig at performance poetry produces an epic about catching the clap of seriously comic proportions, while Ryan's self-help roadshow - hosted by a celeb off TV reality show Celebrity Abortion - is jaw-droppingly magnificent in its cruelty. An essential intro for fringe virgins and veterans alike. Nick Awde

David Benson - Why Pay More?  Pleasance - Fringe veteran David Benson's new show is based on his experiences and memories of past Festivals, presented in a casual chat with the audience. This is a risky business, since it requires that the audience find him interesting, but fortunately Benson is a performer of immense charm, who quickly wins over even those who have never seen him before. He makes his tales of coming to Edinburgh first as a student, then as a member of the fabled Grassmarket Project, and eventually as a solo performer, amusing and engrossing in equal measure, and is the rare performer whose hour seems too short for your desire to remain in his company. Such is the nature of the show that he is likely to focus on one memory or another so that each day's performance will be different. But all are punctuated by the occasional song, delivered in a strong and attractive Sinatra-ish style that suggests both a potential subject for his next show and an alternative career if he ever gets tired of the monologue form. Gerald Berkowitz

The Bird Flu Diaries Pleasance - Mounting hysteria and panic grips the nation. The first outbreak of bird flu has hit our shores. The people need somewhere to hide. Tony Blair responds with his usual statesman's touch: offering a free place in his personal bunker to the winner of a video diary competition. The ensuing linked vignettes from Olivia Poulet and Sarah Solemani prove to be a blast of fresh air for your jaded festival comedy reviewer. They also happen to be extremely funny, maintaining a wicked balance between social and political observation - something strangely rare these days. A series of characters - representative of our nation, obviously - keep on popping up as their stories gradually converge on the PM's bunker. A pair of death goth girls in Wicca capes ride a tandem en route to attempting to become ladies of the lake in their local lido. TV news anchors, one just back from maternity leave, needle each other over ripped perineums and bad hair, somehow managing to draw breath to introduce unpdates on the worsening situation. Videos flash across the screen with entries from hopefuls such as the unnerving mums from the Ross Kemp Conservatoire (created for their thespian Coknernee kids) or the scary, mad, bad crimping girls from Manchester leering from their tent. Meanwhile, two students bicker. You cringe as you laugh as you watch the right-on political class war one patiently enduring the celeb sloganeering of her Jamie Oliver-obsessed flat-mate. Things are funny in the first place and get funnier as the situations develop into hideously familiar situations, courtesy of two comics who also happen to be wonderfully gifted actors and mimics. Nick Awde

Bitches and Money  Baby Belly - Martin Henshell's black comedy looks at a trio of Victorian ne'er-do-wells turning against each other when one of their fiendish plots goes awry. A card sharp and his two female accomplices, a slightly mad math genius and a lovely distraction, have made a big score but, as the play opens, one of the women appears to have shot Jack and stolen the money, and his job is to figure out which is the traitor before he bleeds to death. A string of flashbacks bring us tantalisingly closer to the answer while the main action continues to move forward to an ironic conclusion. That structure and the occasional witty line are the most original and entertaining parts of the show, which is otherwise handicapped by direction by the author that has the three actors performing in three different styles - understated realism for the man, broad mugging melodrama for the math girl and would-be high Wildean wit for the beauty. As a result, they sometimes seem to have wandered in from three different plays,  and seem as unsure as the audience what they are all doing on the same stage.Gerald Berkowitz

The Black Sheep Pleasance Dome - There is nothing wrong with this two-man sketch comedy show that better material, better direction and better comic timing couldn't cure. Ciaran Murtagh and Andrew Jones are amiable enough as performers, and some of their self-written bits are based on clever concepts - Freddy Krueger of the horror films as a children's TV presenter, inappropriate ads for diapers and sex toys, a circus dancing bear who really wants to do magic tricks. But  in too many cases the execution does not do full justice to the generating idea, and even the best of their sketches tend to drag on too long, beating their simple gag to death. Meanwhile too many of the others - for example, a jester's job interview, a witch and an estate agent, a song in gibberish - may have seemed like potentially good comic ideas but turn out simply to have no jokes in them. Everything is done at a leisurely pace, with extended costume-changing intervals between bits, preventing any comic momentum from building. Severe editing so that only the very best of their material survives, along with much tighter direction and pacing, is necessary for this duo to rise to fringe standards. Gerald Berkowitz

Black Watch   Traverse 4 - The new National Theatre of Scotland makes a triumphal entrance with Gregory Burke's verbatim theatre celebration and dissection of one of Scotland's oldest and most decorated military regiments. Through the words of recent Iraqi War veterans (and one should note that they are quite realistically filled with the soldier's traditional four-letter obscenities), Burke evokes the mix of pride, unhappiness, excitement, boredom, commitment and doubt that are the essence of the foot soldier's life, while director John Tiffany translates it all into thrilling visual theatre. Playing in a large drill hall, with the audience on both sides (though the piece could easily be adapted to more conventional stages) the all-male cast move seamlessly from realism to stylised choreography (Movement directed by Steven Hoggett), from the adrenaline-fueled excitement of battle to the inertia of waiting, from unembarrassed patriotism to the loss of faith in their mission. (To paraphrase one character, they're not doing what they were trained for, not defending their country but invading another, not fighting an equal enemy but bullying with their superior weaponry a foe whose only recourse is suicide bombings for which there is no defence.) Two high points suggest the flavour of the production: a sequence in which one soldier recounts the 300 year history of the regiment while the others, in tight choreography, dress and re-dress him in Black Watch uniforms through the ages; and a letters-from-home scene in which language gives way to wordless music and the soldiers, wrapped in their own thoughts,  mime the domestic events and lives they are reading about. A final irony, which the play makes sure we see, is that the government has just chosen to merge this historic regiment into another, even while its members are in the line of fire in Iraq. Gerald Berkowitz

Bloggers  Underbelly - For those still living in the last century, 'blogs' are diaries or letters to the world that anyone who wants can keep on a website, and just about everyone in the world seems to want. Oliver Mann has trawled the web to find ten intriguing blogs and got their authors' permission to excerpt them (names changed) in theatrical form. Five actors play two roles each, just taking turns speaking excerpts from the actual diaries, and the pleasure lies in the introduction to these characters. There's a guy trying to work his way through the end of a love affair, an agoraphobic woman whose only real contact with the world (other than her blog) is through her work-at-home job for a phone sex agency, a man and a woman each coping with troublesome parents, a mother coping with teenage kids, and so on. Mann can be excused for leaning heavily on blogs with sexual themes, though audiences are likely to care more for that dumped fellow or the guy who actually finds some rapport with his father. Even the self-confessed sex addict schoolteacher ultimately discovers that she was looking for love all the time. Those who come for the salaciousness may find themselves being unexpectedly moved by these small stories. Gerald Berkowitz

Brick Walls Underbelly - Two novice brickies have done the obvious and managed to wall themselves in. One, they forgot to leave space for a door, and two, it's in the middle of nowhere. Casting implausibility to the winds, Dan Mansell and Thomas Eccleshare explore the tricks, wheezes and idle games that the monotony of this novel incarceration brings to the hapless Vladimir and Estragon. The devil of boredom proves to be quite a temptation for their imaginations. Sometimes they talk, picturing the view beyond the walls, inventing things to bicker about or creating scenarios for a variety of visitors. Sometimes they create a visitor from a coat-hanger, empty suit and a yellow hard hat. Physical comedy is a constant building block on which the characters develop, where a hammer in the hand of one brickie becomes an unexpected animation remote control for the movements of the other, while crossed-over hands give a newspaper suspended between them a life of its own. Alternatively funny and poignant, there are some promising concepts here, but it would be good to see more concentration in the ideas department for connecting up the scenes, as well as pushing the performances up a notch or two in the technique department. Nick Awde

Jane Bussmann - Bussmann's Holiday Assembly Rooms - Writer Jane Bussmann stumbled into an epiphany while writing glitzy Hollywood drivel about Demi Moore's pea-brained toyboy. Deciding to become a 'useful' person, her quest for journalistic redemption directs her to the muse we know as Google. Keying in 'evillest man in the world', up pops the name of Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony - he's the one with an army of kidnapped child soldiers. Searching for his nemesis - researching in, erm, the pages of Vanity Fair - she spots her newsworthy holy grail, American conflict resolution expert John Prendergast, helping to broker peace in Uganda. He's dashing, sexy and, more importantly, single. Bussmann books her ticket to Kampala. What follows is a picaresque of how our would-be foreign correspondent dashes after Prendergast, teaches scriptwriting to Aids orphans in a village school, meets a sinister peacekeeping colonel and fails to keep her muck-racking instincts at bay, leading to alternately hilarious and horrific results. Punctuating her tale with a witty slideshow, Bussmann is the first to laugh at how she becomes a wannabe Kate Adie and yet this belies a harder edge. Under the surface lurks something not quite Radio 4 and it dawns on you that, in part at least, Bussmann's hapless front is a dramatic device, neatly packaged by Sally Phillips' incisive direction. Surviving the jungle of the celeb glossies, she is as hardnosed as any hard news reporter, and, to be honest, most foreign correspondents can be just as clueless - the 'If this is Thursday, it must be Beirut' syndrome. And let's not forget that all those so-called UN and agency peacemakers can see no further than their whopping expense accounts, and I bet even the saintly Prendergast would shy away from venturing into the heart of darkness armed with only a credit card, a Blackberry and a runny tummy. Nick Awde

Cabin Fever  Gilded Balloon Teviot - Jim Sweeney's play offers an original twist on the Fringe staple of the monologue play in which a character offers his real or fictional autobiography. Veteran comedian-actor Stephen Frost plays an old-style, non-PC, gag-after-gag comedian who, after being supplanted by the 'alternative comics' of the 1980s, has spent the past twenty-five years entertaining the geriatric set on cruise ships. But new management has decided to go for a younger clientele, and he's been fired. His reaction is to kidnap one of the callow young executives, bring him to the cabin that has been his home for years, and argue his case, in the process celebrating both an out-of-fashion style of entertainment and the real dedication of those who gave their lives to it. Ultimately the play has little new to tell us (though there's a nice plot surprise at the end), and there is a surely unintended irony in the fact that Stephen Frost himself was of the generation of young comedians who displaced older comics like his character. But in an Edinburgh filled to the brim with the current crop of stand-ups this little play may serve as a valuable reminder to young Fringe audiences that there was a world of entertainment before last week. Gerald Berkowitz

Cambridge Footlights - Niceties  Pleasance Dome - The undergraduate revue, once a staple of the Fringe, has generally fallen victim to the preference of budding comic talents to become stand-ups, with only Oxford and Cambridge continuing to carry the somewhat drooping flag. This year's Cambridge entry is one of the best in a long time, which is to say that it is frequently both inventive and funny. As too many sketch shows prove, coming up with the concept for a skit is the easy part - making what happens onstage actually funny is a lot harder. Cambridge's sketches are not only satisfactorily silly ideas - cricket fielders with little interest in the game, quintets quarrelling in the womb, nerds in a Narnia chat room - but funny and inventive in themselves. A curmudgeon like myself might complain that few of them have punchlines, just fading out when they're done, but there are a lot of original comic twists and real laughs along the way. Gerald Berkowitz




Pat Candaras - Grandmotherfucker Underbelly - As her title suggests, the core of Pat Candaras's act lies in the novelty of a Woman of a Certain Age talking about sex and liberally sprinkling about the standard conversational obscenities. In fact, her sex stories make up her best material, with anecdotes about middle-age dating and comments on some of the men she's met. Otherwise, her material is standard - family troubles, New York paranoia, growing up Catholic - and to a large extent dated - she's still telling Clinton jokes - while her delivery is flat and rhythmless. A recurring pattern involves a string of small jokes clearly leading up to a big one that never materialises, or the introduction of a new topic only to discover that there is nothing funny in it. Frequent long pauses followed by a sudden change of topic repeatedly give the impression that she's forgotten her script, often before reaching the actual joke in the topic just abandoned.  When in doubt, she can always recapture a portion of the audience with a four-letter word, but her overreliance on the device merely underlines how thin her material is and how little personality she brings to the microphone. Gerald Berkowitz

Captain Corelli's Mandolin Valvona & Crolla - We are lucky that bestselling novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin has found its natural home with master storytellers Mike Maran and Philip Contini. Armed only with a handful of props - a cardboard motorbike, wooden goat, three swivelling heads to make up the opera society - and the occasional song, they weave anew Louis de Bernieres' magical tale of Cephalonia. Occupied during the Second World War by Italian and Nazi troops, the Greek island is where Captain Corelli falls in love with Pelagia, the local doctor's daughter. The realities of war, however, conspire against their love and tragedy threatens the gentle comedy of everyday life on the isle. Confidently dishing out the characters between them, Maran and Contini are so relaxed in each other's company that they finish off each other's sentences in conveying the humour, passion and horror of the events that swirl around Pelagia and her beloved music-loving captain. Of course there wouldn't be a story without a mandolin, and Alison Stephens provides haunting melodies on the instrument throughout, adding guitar, tuba and trumpet - and with a snare drum staccato she represents the shock of the firing squad - to Anne Evans' lyrical piano and flute. Their soundtrack is as expressive and emotional as the words they accompany. They've been doing this since 1999 but the production is as fresh as the first day they did it. A spellbinding experience. Nick Awde

Scott Capurro: Yankee Dog-Pig The Stand - When Scott Capurro opens with the innocent line ³Have you read the Quran?' you have two choices: run for the hills or sit back, enjoy and be damned for all time. Mind you, as a beleaguered (mainly by lesbians) gay man, Capurro's a great believer in equal opps, so Jews, Christians (er, make that Catholics) and George Bush's satanic family all fall under his satirical blade. He's sleeker and wittier than ever before, and there can few comics who make an art of insulting their audience while simultaneously seducing them. What else would make you sit for an hour and laugh as if it's the most natural thing in the world to learn that Capurro misses the days when AIDS killed you quickly, disarmingly admits to stalking a cute member of the previous night's audience, or wonders if Bush plays Blair like a puppet because he has a photo of the PM porking a pig. There are few lines that Capurro hasn't crossed but even he seemed pleasantly pleased with himself after blurting out a graphic guide to Tom Cruise's bedtime habits (you really don't want to know), the undeniable attraction of all those naked bodies piled up in Abu Ghraib jail, or how he once found great comfort in the quadriplegia of ex-Superman Christopher Reeve. Essential if squirm-making viewing. Nick Awde

Caviar and Chips Underbelly - Whatever its title might suggest, this is an exquisitely entertaining piece of theatre that will most certainly leave you wanting more. Even as the ludicrous story of the three unlikely friends on the run in Wrigley begins to unfold, we sense that we are in for a rather unusual treat. Disillusioned with their lives, the former boarding school girl Danny and Cuban nymphomaniac Erica join the battered girlfriend Michelle on an adventure to a seaside resort. In what seems an incredibly short 45 minutes they recount their personal tragedies with such character-building skill and a sense of humour that is extremely reassuring about the future of the female British comedy. And all of this before they actually unleash their irresistably sexy audience interaction routine. Extremely original and socially observant, this gem from Marianna Burelli, Millie Reeves,and Brigitte Voutsa is your ultimate metrosexual show this year, which also manages to wrap itself up in a palatable narrative format. Duska Radosavljevic

Charlotte the Destroyer Hill Street Theatre - An author hits writer's block. Her deadlines are long gone. Just her, in the bedsit, blank A4s in the typewriter, phobias in the open, and a devoted boyfriend edging for the door. Sounds like the fairly standard scenario of angst-ridden artist languishing in garret, but this is someone who has made things really complicated for herself. She's a kids' book writer who, against everyone's better judgment, has decided to pen a novel for the adult market and in it let her main character Charlotte grow up. The problem is that Charlotte refuses to grow up gracefully. In fact, Charlotte is starting to take over her creator's life. As the writer struggles to restore order with Charlotte and her appalling parents, horror and humour converge. In a stand-out performance, Megan O'Leary pits emotional fragility against creative strength as the writer who battles the bottle in an attempt to battle her demons. As her long-suffering boyfriend, Jon Ferreira convinces you she'll never find another like him (despite his dubious lavatory habits, obviously). All pigtails and pouts, Gretchen Knapp is deliciously naughty as Charlotte even when she's dangerously psychotic, which is most of the time. Her dysfunctional mum and dad are Anne Marie Chouinard, who handily engineers a fairy-tale exit from the family, and Sean Stanco, who can't make up his mind where to put his hands: on his whisky, gun, dick or daughter. O'Leary's script is a mini-masterpiece of plot and dialogue and Janet Bobcean ensures that the thread is never lost. Meanwhile, Katrina Alix's grungy set splits up into overlapping spaces with cinematic or comic book clarity, the transitions punctuated by Keller McGuinness's equally grungy soundtrack. Aside from O'Leary and a great ensemble to boot, this is easily the best piece of writing on this year's fringe. Nick Awde

Clean Alternatives Assembly Rooms - Oozing charisma and immense self-confidence, Brian Dykstra as playwright and actor dedicates the entire first act of his play to being deliberatly incomprehensible, all for the sake of corporate authenticity and the opportunity for himself and his ensemble to prove that notion about good actors being able to make a telephone directory sound good. And they do. Dykstra relishes status play too, and a three-hander is such an excellent platform for this, especially when it brings a woman (Emily Ackerman) between two former buddies (Dykstra and Mark Boyett) to cause a discord of values and a challenge to the existing beliefs. Lifeless corporate discorse is gradually pitched against experiments in political rhetoric and increasingly frequent poetry slamming, making a war zone out of language, too. But then again we are reminded of the state of affairs in present day America, and it all slots into place in a tastefully understated way. As a playwright Dykstra falters ever so slightly towards the end by making his point a touch too heavyhandedly. As an actor he absolutely excells, making us hang on every breath of his closing line. Duska Radosavljevic

Clinically Famous Gilded Balloon Teviot - Other than being potentially cathartic for those involved, confessional theatre has very few functions for its audience. In this piece author Caroline Gold finds a very interesting key to dealing with her own demons in an entertaining way by bringing together her personal experience of the Priory Clinic and her addiction to soap operas. At least the latter would potentially serve to bond her with any similarly inclined audience members. Appropriately groomed and with a sparkle in her eye, Natalie Haverstock rises to the challenge of playing the soap actress Beverley Beresford, currently undergoing treatment for depression. Being only superficially aware of the world of soap operas, I am not sure exactly how convincing Haverstock's perfomance is. However, the show definitely reads like an A-Z of celebrity culture's highs and lows. Jenny Eclair's perfomance in Julie Balloo's piece from a couple of years ago comes to mind as a theatrically more accomplished and universally accessible take on this particular theme, but I'm sure that on this occasion Gold almost certainly accomplishes her own objectives too. Duska Radosavljevic

Chris Cox - He Can't Read Minds C Central - Unlike some mentalists, Chris Cox repeatedly denies having any mystical powers, assuring us that he's accomplishing all his mind-reading effects through a magician's skills of misdirection, influence and body-language reading. If anything, this makes his tricks even more impressive, since they are openly the product of masterful skill and technique, and if you might occasionally guess how he does it - he has a few giveaway 'tells' of his own - there is still enough mystification to make for a fully entertaining hour. And so when he guesses a card just from the holder's giveaway twitches, or somehow knows what audience members have drawn on their sketch pads, or invites the audience to invent credits for an imaginary film only to have them appear on a DVD trailer someone has been holding since the show's opening, we can delight in the surprise even as he reminds us it's all a trick. Adding to the show's fast-moving fun are the 22-year-old's amiable personality and his clever comic interplay with a pre-recorded video version of himself, who is almost as good a magician as he. Gerald Berkowitz

Creena DeFoouie Sweet ECA - You're either going to hate the mad world of Creena DeFoouie or you're going to love it and never want to leave. It's hard to see any middle ground in this gothic comedy about a vampish analyst who can't help murdering her hapless patients. Like Ab Fab meets the Addams Family, stopping off at Rocky Horror's on the way, the goings-on at Creena's country clinic veer between schlock horror and high camp (of sorts). And it's turning out to be a bad day for the psychotic analyst (Charlotte Barton-Hoare) when Superintendent Hardon (James Hoare) pops in just after she has done away with Kelly (Lisa Marie Diliberto), an insecure buck-toothed slob. Hiding the body is the least of her worries, as she slowly turns the tables on the priapic policeman in search of the truth about her long-gone murdered sister. The constant laughs cover the cracks in the B-movie script and direction, and though the humour is slapstick and makes an art of the obvious in true music hall tradition, if you keep your ears and eyes peeled there are movie and song references galore. Additionally, welcome inducement indeed, a bottle of champagne is to be won after each show. Nick Awde

Crunch! Pleasance - The idea is quite simple really (but then again all best ideas are) - this show is all about apples. Told as a quest story in which Adam and Eve travel through history in order to find a replacement for the unique sample they've gobblled up in Eden, they of course bump into Newton and William Tell before Eve strays into the story of Snow White while Adam gets embroiled with the Apple of Discord responsible for the Trojan War. After much tears and laughter, it all leads to a happy ending, of course - or, as they'll have you know, in this show Adam and Eve get to live apple-y ever after. The sixty minutes of absolute comic and musical bliss certainly go a long way in redeeming some of the grief of the original sin, making us wonder why no one has yet thought about it like that before. And if nothing else, this is one of the most vitamin packed family shows that you are likely to find in town this year - and that's not only because you actually get fed on your way out. Duska Radosavljevic

Cutlery Wars Underbelly - Best known for being penned by that comic idol of the kindergarten and beergarden alike, James Campbell, this black comedy for kids focuses on a couple of sixth-formers engaged in a pastime combat between the King of Forks and the King of Knives (occasionally featuring the King of Spoons and the Queen of Teaspoons). In addition to the wit of the written material, the play's comedy is contained in the spaces that Campbell leaves to his actors to find a slapstick dimension to their characters' increasingly surreal interaction. As a result comedians Carey Marx and Matt Kirshen give beautifully evocative performances as adults stuck in schoolboys' uniforms. The parents in the audience will nod in recognition of Campbell's perfectly innocent yet pointed questioning of the purpose of the education system. Meanwhile, the dilemma between sitting through sixth grade for the fourteenth time and admitting to having hairy legs is just wonderfully funny, as my my sixth-grader companion also rushes to assure me. As for Campbell, this is a highly commendable foray into playwriting and one only hopes that he stays in it for much longer than he'd ever wish to have stayed at school. Duska Radosavljevic

Rhys Darby - Based on Actual Events Pleasance - Rhys Darby doesn't do stand-up comedy. He does roller-skating comedy, marching comedy, dancing comedy, robot-imitating comedy, crawling through the underbrush comedy. His actual material, based as his title suggests on his own experiences, is not especially new or unique - teenage dating disasters, unpleasant army experiences, his worst-ever gig. But the fact that he acts out all the events he describes, playing all the roles, helps give the familiar material a freshness, as well as the actions being funny in themselves. Darby's central subject, in time-honoured fashion, is his own ineptitude. His first real date with a girl was at a roller rink, despite the fact that he couldn't skate, and his cunning plan for disguising that fact quite literally backfired. In all innocence he answered an army recruiter's questions in exactly the way, he now realises, that would make him sound gay. And when they took him anyway, he proceeded to break all New Zealand military records for incompetence. His performance style says he can laugh about it all now, but more importantly, he can make others laugh as well. Gerald Berkowitz

The Dark Show Sweet ECA - Although the programme lists Fi Hunter's one-woman show as comedy, it deserves also to be filed under theatre. In a series of contrasting vignettes, she portrays an assortment of oddballs united by the queasy fact that they are killers in one form or another. It is not the expected gallery of serial murderers - Hunter is a little more inventive. Instead we meet the taxidermist whose childhood hobby of popping off household pets and preserving them in araldite has grown into something a little more obsessive. Also joining the murderous ranks is a cheeky chappy street trader selling an innocent kids game from his stall in the style of an arms dealer pushing the latest rocket launcher, while a clown follows the plot of a pulp fiction voice-over. Punctuating the flow is a short film of an agency interview with an East European seeking employment as a child carer - the punchline is a comic killer. Hunter works hard and jumps in and out of character with ease. Not all the monologues, however, are as dark or edgy as she and co-writers Hal Sinden and Seline Bullocke would wish, and the physical portrayals can be a little uneven. But with a bit more work, this show deserves to go further. Nick Awde

The Deluge Hill Street Theatre - A violent flood in 1835 on the North Sea coast of Denmark forces four members of high society to seek shelter in a barn. The water is fast rising and since they fear they will not survive the night, they tell each other about their lives mingled with hints of their hopes and illusions. Aided by Wynne-Simmons' tight direction and Barbara Shaw's detailed set, a generous ensemble navigates this multi-levelled piece with conviction. As Malin, Susannah York turns from loneliness to passion as the society lady finding salvation in championing the love she never had. Clashing personalities with her is the mysterious, bullish Cardinal whose belief system vacillates, played with a haughty veneer by Tim Woodward. Candida Benson keeps a compelling balance between innocence and adulthood as the young Calypso, who relates her abusive childhood with dark candour. And, in portraying the handsome court singer Jonathan, George Williams entertainingly conveys his dilemma of fighting the celebrity forced upon him by an adoring public. Adapted with by Robert Wynne-Simmons from a 1934 story by Isak Dinesen, writer Karen Blixen's alter ego, at first sight the storytelling format seems over-rigid, but, true to Blixen/Dinesen's spirit and intention, it becomes clear that this is key to the stripping down of each character's identity. No one is as they appear and each revelation is artfully framed to create a dramatic resonance that keeps relationships shifting and ensures that the quartet's self-discovery is believable. A strong underlying current of humour is another constant that unites the action and removes any comparison with the usual pot-pourris of gothic tale anthologies. Nick Awde

Devil's Advocate Assembly Rooms - On Christmas Eve, 1989, American troops invaded Panama and chased the country's president General Manuel Noriega into seeking sanctuary in Panama City's Vatican Embassy. There, under the protection of Archbishop Jose Laboa, Jesuit priest and papal nuncio, the ousted and armed dictator settled down to an 11-day siege where the US blasted out heavy metal music to wear him down. All this is historical fact. What now follows is a bold imagining by Donald Freed of what might have transpired between these two leaders, one of men, the other of souls. Sinister Noriega (Ignatius Anthony) and frail Laboa (Peter Dineen), each vulnerable in their own way, circle warily around each other through a series of volatile debates that probe their individual faiths - while jointly affirming that the Great Satan is America. As if at a bullfight, we watch the general slowly weaken under the repeated barbs of the cleric's Jesuitical psychology. And perhaps they are more similar than is first apparent, as Noriega suggests when he glibly informs his unwilling host: 'You cleanse souls, I clean money, and the US cleans up.' Predictable trigger points pepper their exchanges: death squads, confession, drugs, CIA, colonial atrocities, the devil. Strangely, there is none of the liberation theology of the period that fused church and popular resistance. Violence seems to be never far away as the tension builds. Even as a tiny schoolboy, I remember the Jesuits at school instilling in us the virtues of being a devil's advocate (they neglected to add that Judas was the first Jesuit). It is precisely this serpentine line of reasoning that convinces us of Laboa's ability to risk entering Noriega's unpredictable, dangerous mindset. The resulting mental pressure cooker provokes both into exorcising their inner visions and demons - quite literally in the former's case. Anthony and Dineen make a commendable job of wading through Freed's indecisive script, producing energetic portrayals, and yet their ability to convey the true spirit driving these larger than life real-life characters is obscured by Dee Evans' direction, sacrificing as it does motivation for movement. In the end, however, polemic and performance gel, making it a worthwhile if overlong experience by final curtain. Nick Awde

Did Priya Pathak Ever Get Her Wallet Back? Pleasance - Sitting behind his Mac on an Ikea desk, Richard Dedomenici welcomes the audience in with a singalong to Lionel Richie's Hello. It makes you wonder if you're being gently seduced into becoming part of another work by this performance artist. Amusing and gently satirical, Dedomenici recounts in deadpan tones how watching our police force's transformation in response to the current climate of terror caused him to tune into provoking the boys in blue in order to provoke our perceptions of justice. His own life provides fertile ground since his first brush with the law was being bundled away as a tiny nipper with his mum at the anti-nuclear protests of Greenham Common. As a teenager in a Watford Mcdonald's, he came close to being shot by the police because his mate was brandishing a water pistol. As an adult he became a performance artist. Pieces range from being hauled up for legally illegally flyposting to wandering around Chicago with bound wrists and a plastic bag over his head followed by a string of concerned police. Negative or positive cop action is added to a computer-generated scales of justice. The conclusion may be surprising for some since Dedomenici's exploits in public clearly landed him in situations where no one would have blamed the rozzers for the odd whack over the head. Of course, the missing subtext is how he would have fared if he'd been black, working class and without educated articulation. As the routines become funnier and more elaborate, it becomes hard to judge whether Dedomenici has landed in Beadle's About territory or Chris Morris's Brass Eye. You make up your mind, and may the force be with you. Nick Awde

Divino Pastor Gongora Pleasance - Okay, so it's in Spanish (there are surtitles) and it's set way back in the 18th century, when Mexico was New Spain, straining under the iron yoke of king and the Catholic church. But this powerful piece, in probing the eternal link between politics and theatre, will make you ponder and laugh in equal measure. Gongora wants to set the record straight. The incarcerated actor knows a horrible end is just around the corner - the garrotte lurks in the wings - for not only is he accused of treason but he has also had it away with the niece of the inquisitor who intends to sentence him. Led by ego and libido into taking a part in a new show, he had been so blinded he failed to realise that it was the herald for a major uprising. Apprehended, he finds himself accused of debauchery, a charge he is more than happy to admit - he's an actor after all - but also of treason, which he finds flattering but improbable. Gongora is a comic actor, and it is the humour that makes his predicament so familiar to us all. Weaving madcap narrative, song and snatches of plays, and always with a twinkle in his eye, the rotund Carlos Cobos rants, gyrates, sings and declaims. Aided by Miguel Angel Rivera's deft direction, Cobos engages with every word or tumble in the dust while William Gregory's evocative, pithy translation wrings out every double entendre with poetic dignity. Lightening the worthy themes of censorship and oppression, this story within a story turns out to also be a play within a play as Jaime Chabaud's cracking script serves up clips from authentic contemporary works which, even when viewed from the triple-separation of language, culture and history, are jaw-dropping for their scatological subversity. Nick Awde

DJ Danny Pleasance - Danny Robins takes on the persona of a schoolteacher moonlighting as a DJ in an act which is sometimes unsure whether it is laughing at or with the character. DJ Danny's project is to use music to heal the world, or at least make some members of the audience feel better, by mixing songs especially for their problems, volunteered in pre-show questionnaires. Aided by an onstage assistant who does most of the actual mixing, the DJ first demonstrates his power by playing music designed to depress us and then to bring us back up. A centrepiece of the act has him rewriting the lyrics of a Robbie Williams song to fit the problem of one audience member and making it part of a cheer-up mix, and the climax involves the whole audience in a peace rap designed to exorcise the triple demons of war, poverty and James Blunt. But while this is going on, we are always aware that DJ Danny is unmistakably a nerdy white guy trying desperately and unsuccessfully to be hip, and it is not always clear how much of that pathetic failure is the character's and how much the performer's. Gerald Berkowitz

Don Quixote Edinburgh Playhouse - In what has been a regular fixture of Brian McMaster's festival programming, this year's Balanchine is a revival of his rarely performed 1965 ballet. Originally created for Balanchine's then muse Suzanne Farrell as the female lead, the piece was eventually bequeathed to her at his death in 1983. Farrell revived the piece last year to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Cervantes' classic, on a slightly reconcieved set and with costumes inspired by the original designs. In considering this piece as part of Balanchine's ouvre, it is difficult to bypass its apparent self-reflexivity on many levels. The novel itself introduces the notion of self-reflexive fiction into the literary history. In adapting the story, Balanchine and composer Nicolas Nabokov cleverly achieve an equivalent of this by turning the second act into a showcase of court-dances watched by Don Quixote in the duchess's palace. Eventually, it is hard not to read this piece as in some way autobiographical, especially as the then sixty-one year old choreographer insisted on playing the title role on the opening night. Balanchine's fast-paced, spectacular and nuanced adaptation of the story focuses on Don Quixote's moral idealism and chivalric nostalgia mainly in terms of a romantic manifestation of those values. Dulcinea, in this case danced by sensual and innocent Heather Ogde, is a pivotal figure in his quest even when he is performing his ill-fated heroic deeds for the benefit of the humanity at large. The creative team behind this production pay their homage to the original by also effectively recreating the characteristic blurring of reality and illusion. The latter is so powerful that it took me a while to realise that I was actually looking at a real horse on the stage. And even though the piece progresses into a format which is more concerned with the technique rather than storytelling by act three, the production values of Farrell's version are mesmerisingly captivating and almost certainly touching on other-wroldly, which makes for an excellent piece of programming, too. Duska Radosavljevic

Doom Riders Assembly Rooms - I must begin by confessing to a weakness for the fringe genre of mock epic in which a small cast play multiple roles, with the transparency of the doubling and general cheesiness of the production part of the joke. But even allowing for my susceptibility, this entry by the trio who call themselves the Four Noels is a particularly funny example of the genre. The three Australians- Jesse Griffin, John Forman and James Pratt - tell a convoluted tale of the village of Steaming Heap, whose vicar is a closet satanist using the local castle to create monsters and zombies in anticipation of the rising of the demon Murdoch, and of the young priest and local virgin who must foil them.  No cliché of the horror genre escapes being sent up, no temptation to a bad joke is resisted. In addition to the main characters the trio quick change into a randy nun, local townsfolk, a vicious eagle and not one, but two separate Igor figures, and their difficulty making the changes on time or keeping their characters straight contributes to the general air of silliness.  While some of the giggling fits and covering ad libs may be scripted, they're all fun, as are the several clever songs, making for a fast-moving hour of continuous laughter. Gerald Berkowitz




Ella, Meet Marilyn  Pleasance Dome - In the 1950s Marilyn Monroe used her influence, and possibly her sexual favours, to get her idol Ella Fitzgerald a major night club booking that transformed the singer's career. Ella remained forever grateful, while also chafing under the burden of Marilyn's emotional neediness. This is the basis for Bonnie Greer's new play, whose biggest weakness lies in unremittingly cliche-filled dialogue but whose strength is in its imagined characterisations of the two women - Marilyn the perpetual innocent who imagines herself worldly-wise enough to offer career and life counsel, and Ella the experienced and street-smart woman who nonetheless demands the right to hang on to her dreams. Sally Lindsay wears the white dress and attempts the breathy little-girl voice, but in no way looks like, sounds like or evokes the spirit of Monroe. Rain Pryor plays Fitzgerald as generic older-black-woman, which may even be accurate. But every few minutes the play stops to allow Pryor to sing, not in Ella's style but in her own strong blues-and-jazz voice, and I would say that alone was worth the price of admission except that Pryor is also appearing nightly at another venue without an uneven play to stand between her singing and us. Gerald Berkowitz

End of the Rainbow Assembly Hall - The powerful and moving evocation of an entertainment icon, combining classic singing with a fully-realised dramatic story, with a remarkable central performance and solid supporting cast, makse this portrait of Judy Garland's last hurrah a high point, if not THE high point of the Festival. Rather than a typical biography show, author Peter Quilter focusses on a few days in 1968 as Garland essays yet another comeback in a London cabaret engagement, supported by her soon-to-be-fifth-husband Mickey Deans and a fictional composite gay accompanist, but without the support of pills and liquor. Tragically, she discovers that, after years of dependency, she simply cannot make it through a performance without chemical aid, and equally tragically, that even those who love her the most will eventually make draining demands on her dwindling emotional resources. A show like this lives or dies with its central performance, and Caroline O'Connor delivers. Singing at least parts of a dozen Garland classics, she captures the sound and style with uncanny accuracy, along with the familiar physical mannerisms. Close your eyes, and it is Judy; open them and it's still Judy. But this is not merely a drag queen impersonation. O'Connor subtly distinguishes between Judy singing with confidence and authority and Judy singing on the edge of her nerves, while showing that both were spectacular. In the dramatic scenes, she shows how Judy could be charming, bitchy, desperate, violent, pathetic and hilarious, often within seconds, and makes it clear that the singer is always walking an emotional tightrope from which she knows she must eventually fall. O'Connor is not alone onstage, however much her bravura performance dominates it. Michael Cormick makes Deans a solid, loving man willing to take on the mantle of Mr. Judy Garland even if it requires him to be painfully cruel, or to end up supplying the drugs he had begun by bravely withholding. Jonathan Gavin makes a sympathetic and ultimately flawed individual out of a character who is an embodiment of Garland's gay fan base. End of the Rainbow has already won awards in its native Australia, and must have a stage life beyond Edinburgh. Gerald Berkowitz

Fahrenheit 451 Gilded Balloon Teviot - From the moment that you enter the theatre and find yourself stared down by a group of threatening firemen, you get the idea that this will be a highly professional production. This is not surprising, as this import has already played to critical acclaim at 59E59 in New York. Taking on a cult book or film can be a mistake. When the source has become a legend in both forms, with strong memories of a double dose of Julie Christie in Truffaut's film unlikely to fade, something special is required. However, Godlight Theatre know what they are doing in this genre, as demonstrated by last year's stylish Clockwork Orange in the same space Ray Bradbury's allegory of a dystopia in which the firemen are there to burn books rather than save property or people is very unsettling, with its intimations of the Nazis at their worst. Gregory Konow makes a fine Guy Montag, the fireman who is seduced by the freedom of books and ideas, choosing to rebel against the nature that has been drummed into him from birth. In particular, the scenes with his boss, Michael Tranzilli are very powerful. The women led by Kristen Harlow playing Montag's wife Mildred do not get that much of the action, although each member of the nine person ensemble gets their chance to shine. Under Joe Tanatalo's direction, Godlight almost pull it off. However, the lack of a visual dynamic until the final scenes of this minimalist production is eventually a major drawback, not quite redeemed by strong acting and an appropriately terrifying soundscape that may well have some audience members ducking.Philip Fisher

Finer Noble Gases Bongo Club - There is a risk that any advance information about this show will either produce an entirely off-putting effect or that it may result in great doubt about its plausibility as a piece of theatre. Suffice it to say that, being in part a parody of a genre, this is probably the ultimate Fringe show, the kind which this festival exists to celebrate. The set consisting of a sofa, a TV and a drum-kit, peopled by three individuals visibly high on some sort of a narcotic, is immediately reminiscent of a most commonly witnessed opening to a show created by a group of twenty-somethings. Only, the moment these individuals open their mouths (if they do at all), we know we are in a different territory. More ridiculous, less quasi-philosophical, definitely more daring than your average graduation piece, Adam Rapp's offering makes no secrets of its desire to be a music gig instead. And in the hands of this Obie-award winning playwright-director. a successful music gig it becomes! The transformation is phenomenally effective, and despite gratuitous nudity, vomit and urination, the result of this attempt at a bad play is so reassuringly good, it is virtually exemplary. Duska Radosavljevic

Fish Story Pleasance - As a company of actors, People Can Run exude such charm and charisma that they could emerge from a rubbish skip and still make it look attractive. Which is more or less what happens on this occasion. Only in this play, which could be a distant relative of Ionesco's theatre of the absurd, the three characters dressed in a selection of bag-lady's rejects emerge from a fireplace and embark on a seemingly doomed mission to escape a mysterious war zone, past a series of Little Chefs, down M25, all the way to London. As it is a matter of style over content, their progress through this nebulous narrative is satisfyingly wacky, even when dealing with what appears to be a post-traumatic stress syndrome over a drink in a Soho bar. In the past this company has excelled in swift character and scene changes at the service of tight storytelling. Even though it seems that their attempt at a marathon run keeps them at the starting point for a bit too long, it makes for thoroughly enjoyable viewing. Duska Radosavljevic

Tim Fitzhigham - Untitled Pleasance - Tim Fitzhigham does strange things and then reports on them comically. In past years he rowed the length of the Thames in a papier-mâché canoe and crossed the English Channel in a bathtub. This year, inspired by the 400th anniversary of Don Quixote, he decided to become a knight errant, choosing as his Dulcinea a popular TV presenter and setting out to earn the title of Sir Tim. His quest, as he reports hilariously, somehow involved an exploding West Indian toilet, a worm-charming festival, shin-kicking and cheese-rolling tournaments, the acquisition of a plastic model of the Holy Grail, walking forty miles through the Spanish countryside in full armour and, bowing to current practice, the offer of a small bribe to the Labour Party. I won't give away his ending, but film and slide projections prove that he's not making any of this up and, while he characteristically has to refer frequently to his script, he is also no slouch at sharp-edged ad libs and spontaneous digressions.  He is, in short, both a Very Strange Person and a master storyteller, and an hour in his company is a delight. Gerald Berkowitz

Flanders and Swann  Pleasance - This salute to the duo who pioneered genteel song-and-patter comedy in the 1950s is a delight that does not rely on nostalgia or even knowledge of the originals for the fun, though I must admit I was surprised that everyone in the audience, young and old, could join in the chorus of the Hippopotamus Song ('Mud, mud, glorious mud...') without prompting. Perhaps it's one of those things, like the Goon Show voices and the Dead Parrot sketch, that have entered the British DNA. Duncan Walsh Atkins, quietly droll at the piano, and Tim Fitzhigham, boisterously welcoming at the microphone and singing in an attractive baritone, take us through a dozen F&S classics, from the aforementioned Hippo through Have Some Madeira M'Dear, Transports of Delight and I'm a Gnu. Tim's intersong chatter is new but fully in the F&S mode, taking on the blimpish persona of a Kensington Tory deigning to work alongside his south-London accompanist, and the moment in which he plays a french horn concerto by blowing into one end of a music stand is truly remarkable. All together now, 'I'm a gnu, a gnother gnu....' Gerald Berkowitz

Floating Pleasance - Probably the only certain thing about this show is that it inhabits a place in between fact and fiction, lecture and performanc,e and water and dry land. Set in 1982, this is a story about the island of Anglesey floating away all the way up to the North Pole and back - an incident that remained unnoticed due to the public eye on the Falklands War. At the same time, having made the decision to leave home, Hugh Hughes is forced to navigate his isle back home instead. Conceived by Shon Dale-Jones and performed with Jill Norman, this unlikely multimedia story of a rite of passage is rendered with disarming earnestness and dedication, insisting only on a 'connection' with its audience. There are elements of hyper-realism, archive, and what Hughes himself calls macro-theatre in this thoroughly unpretentious piece. But above all there is a lot of humour and good old imagination, even when we are actually spoon-fed the notion of a bridge collapsing rather than being trusted to picture it ourselves. In its special place in between the extremes, this piece about safety and risk takes a plunge into a new territory which turns out to be sheer pleasure. Duska Radosavljevic

Flood Baby Belly - Gunter Grass's play is a dense parable about mankind's inability or refusal to learn from experience, and this rather mechanical production from Modest Proposals does little to illuminate it or bring it alive. When the home of the Noah family is threatened by continual rain and rising waters, some members try to carry on as if nothing untoward were happening, while others treat it as a holiday from reality and conventional behaviour. Except for a pair of talking rats who have retreated to the roof to make gnomic comments on the human behaviour, no one acknowledges the severity of the danger or takes their escape when the waters recede as the occasion for re-evaluating their lives or making any changes. That summary is, unfortunately, more coherent than the play itself, which repeatedly gets bogged down in soap opera episodes like the return of the family's black sheep son and his sister's attraction to his hoodlum pal. Under Allegra Galvin's direction, acting throughout consists almost entirely of single-note characterisations and raw shouting, a particularly unfortunate choice in a cave-like playing space whose echoes threaten to reduce much of the dialogue to incomprehensible noise. Gerald Berkowitz

Food Traverse - There are times when a pursuit of excellence might jeopardise some of the basic human values. In his bid for success, a father might be too busy to attend to his daughter's cut knee, he might forget to take his wife on holiday, or even worse, fail to save himself from descending into madness and paranoia. Theimaginarybody's new show starts off like a really slick take on the world of celebrity cookery, placing a Gordon Ramsey type of culinary militant at the centre of this story. Having scratched the surface of social satire, however, the plot swiftly evolves into an exploration of the self-destructive side of ambition with the intensity of near-Shakespearean proportions. Headed by brilliant Sean Campion, the five ensemble cast play some 20 characters, alternating beautifully between the parallel worlds of restaurateur Frank Byrne's life. From the busy kitchen to his family home and all the way to Michelin man's office in Paris, this increasingly berserk narrative spans a year of one man's struggle to live up to his own success. And of course it is not too long before the camera crews roll in. Within the world of this play, the self-inflicted mental demise is charted in a subliminal transition between the notions of gustatory bliss and a cannibalistic nightmare in which Byrne signals a readiness to go to terrifying extremes for the right number of stars. But the moment when bewildered Frank chucks toilet rolls at his children is a clear sign of just how badly anally retentive things can get in this man's life. It is a moment which also begins to bring into focus Frank's failing relationship with his love-starved offspring, which sadly never gets a chance to gather enough emotional momentum before the end of the piece. Despite an impeccably presented offering, my fear is that a pursuit of stylistic excellence might be jeopardising the human element in this production too. Nevertheless, you may rest assured that the service given here will be of a maximum star quality. Duska Radosavljevic

Fool Underbelly - After a while, Fringe sketch revues tend to blend into each other, with a limited range of sketch concepts explored from one angle or another, and far too often the same angle. So a revue that backs off from boy-meets-girl or rubbish-the-Americans to wander into new territory is especially welcome, even if it doesn't score with every shot. The backbone of Fool, for example, is the running gag that Jesus is returning, but wants a new theme song written for his arrival. So we follow his selected quadruplets from the womb on, and if some of their appearances don't quite work, the one in which as schoolboys they answer maths questions in barbershop quartet mode is delightfully silly. Other moments that score are an inept tarot reader, an incompetent alchemist, a super-macho Mexican giving dubious romance advice, and two seemingly unrelated sketches about couples that then surprisingly merge in a third episode later in the show.  The foursome - Oliver Birch, David Critchley, John Biddle and Ross Devlin - are amiable guys whose company is enjoyable, and it is a measure of the team's success that the hour moves by much faster than many shorter shows. Gerald Berkowitz

Four Play Pleasance - The theoretical debate as to whether opposites or similar types attract is the basis for Richard Everett's play, which is thought-provoking without being heavy-handed, and almost as frequently humorous as insightful.  Two mismatched couples, each made up of a cold, career-oriented figure and a more romantic one, are friends. An early flash-forward tells us that in eighteen months both couples will be divorced and remarried in more compatible pairings, and the rest of the play traces the winding road that got them there and asks whether everyone is happier now. The clever concept and the skilful direction by Vivian Munn that carries things smoothly and clearly through constant shifts backwards and forwards in chronology make for an engrossing and entertaining hour. The script's one noteworthy limitation is that, by defining all four characters as types, it leaves the actors little opportunity to round them out, and Caroline Taylor as the business-minded woman and Tom Sykes and Camilla Corbett as the more romantic pair must be satisfied with presenting their single notes with force and clarity.  Ironically, it is Simon Connolly as the shallowest of the four who is allowed the most scope, as his character discovers, faces and accepts his limitations. Gerald Berkowitz

Four Poofs and a Piano Pleasance - It is a comment on the times that the quartet of David Wickenden, Stephen De Martin, David Roper and Ian Parkin, best known as Jonathan Ross's TV house band, are offering Edinburgh a show as mainstream and unthreatening as any church choir. Yes, they open with It's Raining Men and run through the requisite jokes about closets, mince and sucking on a Fisherman's Friend. But the bulk of their material seems designed to ignore - or at least to accept as a given and then move past - their sexuality or anything else that might raise an eyebrow. An extended bit about travelling as the opening act for Joan Collins carefully avoids actually saying anything about her, while the running gags about all being fortyish and unattached would all apply equally well to straight men. Their song salute to gay-icon divas is actually one of the weakest numbers in their hour, while a country song about fear of baldness, a French chanson about Viagra and a revivalist anthem in praise of Tesco are generic. The show seems carefully constructed to appeal to a middle-class, middle-age audience who think that Graham Norton is a sweet boy and four of him singing even nicer. Gerald Berkowitz

Gamarjobat Gilded Balloon Teviot - Hiropon and Ketch, a pair of Japanese mimes, offer a full anthology of modern clowning in this delightful hour, with magic, acrobatics, mime, slapstick and even a touch of pathos. The first twenty minutes of the show are devoted to variety and magic, with a mix of classic mime bits like the too-heavy suitcase and the down escalator, and Tommy Cooper-type faked magic, including routines like the missing and moving fingers you haven't seen since you were ten years old. The two men's experience as street performers is evident in their instant rapport with, but also absolute control over the audience in this polished and flawless performance. Subject and style then shift to an inventive cops-and-robbers chase sequence that somehow finds itself in the plot of Chaplin's City Lights, the robber interrupting his escape to meet a blind flower girl and take on various jobs to raise the money for her cure. Adding the fun of quick changes to the mix, the two performers play all the roles in this sequence, which manages to send up the original while still respecting it and capturing its sweetness. Gerald Berkowitz

The Garden Pleasance Dome - A young man emotionally damaged by his experience as an aid worker in Bosnia takes on the task of clearing away the effects of a great-uncle, himself a shell shock victim of World War One. Parallels between their lives just intensify the living man's trauma until he finds a measure of peace working in the garden of what had been, ironically, the uncle's recuperation hospital. The greatest weakness of Jonathan Young's self-written solo show is that it is not until very late in the hour that you can piece together the summary I've just written. Young tells the story in an elliptical, episodic way, jumping back and forth between the two men and several other characters, some unidentified until very late. This structure is meant to draw us in to the psychological and emotional story, but actually does the opposite, the gratuitous mystifying keeping us at a distance while we try to figure out who's who and what's going on. As a performer, Young works hard, and director Carolina Valdes' fluid staging includes some very inventive video and slide projections by Oogoo Maia. But they are ultimately defeated by a text more earnest and well-meaning than coherent. Gerald Berkowitz

Girl Blog from Iraq: Baghdad Burning Pleasance - Since 2003, a young woman writing as 'Riverbend' has been running a blog from her home in Baghdad. The date is significant since it marks the start of 'Operation Iraqi, er, Freedom'. No surprise therefore that the Americans (and Brits) are still there, the daily violence against the populace is still there, and Riverbend is still tragically blogging. But not so tragically because you'll also find as much wry humour and gentle observation underpinning her diary of 'normal' existence under occupation. The Americans destroy her land but there is elation at the toppling of Saddam Hussein. A relative is kidnapped but the family find a funny side after his release. Riverbend resists wearing the hijab until a Christian mate discovers the stylish side of Islamic modesty. Five performers use their voices to create a single, greater voice. Assigned as if by emotion, Marjan Neshat and Maha Chehlaoui represent Riverbend's chatty and angry sides respectively, while Heather Raffo and Lameece Issaq round out other areas of the emotional spectrum. The male presence of Patrick Edgar provides the device of unobtrusive narrator, pushing the action along or subtly breaking one of the many lump in throat silences that Riverbend continually finds herself in. This multi-facet presentation, updated daily, also creates the context that although this is one person speaking, she is in no way isolated but lives surrounded by a large loving family in a large, occasionally loving community. This sense of many other characters in Riverbend's life is expertly fixed by director Kimberly Kefgen, who makes inventive use of stage and lighting to focus on the vivid, shocking and funny events that are described. At first you might think yeah well, seen it, heard it all before. And though the performers of New York-based Six Figures Theatre are mainly of Middle Eastern background, the irony of their American accents jars at first. But that impression changes as the irony reveals the reality that this is no exotic noble creature from the romantically tormented Orient but an individual who not only is more articulate than most in English but who also has been raised with the same values and standards in life as those we ourselves take for granted. Nick Awde

Pauline Goldsmith - Should've Had the Fish Assembly Rooms - The most charitable thing to say about this embarrassingly misconceived, underwritten and under-rehearsed solo show is that there are some hints that it was thrown together at the last moment to fill a slot already committed to. Pauline Goldsmith has shown herself in past years a skilled and sensitive actress, but here she wanders into the territory of stand-up comedy, for which she evidently has no natural instinct, in a programme she clearly has not thought her way through. Using the very awkward frame of a waitress delivering stories and sketches as if they were audience-ordered dishes, Goldsmith stumbles her way through one unfunny anecdote after another, many of them built around the supposedly comic things said or done by members of her bigoted, closed-minded Irish Catholic family. Most of the bits die a slow death, either from their own pointlessness or from her ill-timed and uncomfortable delivery - she gets at least halfway through her long climactic (and ultimately anticlimactic) story before you can even figure out that she's describing events during the Christmas Day tsunami last year. Neither she nor anyone who sits uncomfortably through this hour can ever think that comedy is easy, since all her proven talent as an actress cannot keep her from coming a cropper here. Gerald Berkowitz

The Goodies Still Rule OK   Assembly Rooms - A big British TV hit of the 1970s was The Goodies, either (depending on how you looked at it) an adult comedy show silly enough for kids to enjoy or a kids' show hip enough to become an adult cult. Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie played three inept we'll-do-anything adventurers, allowing for a wide range of plots and free range for their punning, slapstick and visual gags. Now two of the three (Oddie appears only on tape and in the form of a puppet) offer this nostalgia show, reminiscing about their roots and some of their behind-the-scenes adventures, and playing clips from fondly-remembered episodes. It obviously helps if you remember the show and welcome the opportunity to see the clips - for various reasons, including political correctness, they've never been rerun on television - because a newcomer not bringing a load of affection to the theatre is likely to be more aware of what a lazy, half-hearted and not especially funny job the guys are doing around and between the videotaped sequences. Gerald Berkowitz



Goodness  Traverse - A man whose wife left him feels, naturally enough, that as the victim he holds the moral high ground, but it is exactly that assumption that Michael Redhill's play questions. Are Holocaust victims and survivers morally superior to the Nazis? That's too easy. How about survivors who want to take murderous vengeance? Redhill introduces his central character to victims of an unnamed genocide (The play hints at both Yugoslavia and Africa) who admit to sinking to the mass killers' level in their search for justice, and thus show that the moral high ground may be no one's property.  Or at least that is the play Redhill wanted to write, and before I explain why it doesn't work, I must note that it is theatrically inventive and exciting. Scenes from the past are played out as they are narrated, but tellers and listeners repeatedly interrupt and interact with the inner characters, demand that scenes be replayed as they'd prefer, and are told off when they too blatantly impose their values and prejudices on the past. It makes for fascinating theatre and also as a metaphor for the play's warning against  assuming events have the meanings we'd prefer. But the play ultimately falls apart when the victims' crime, the one that is to thematically reduce them to the moral level of their enemies, is just not of the same magnitude at all, so that they retain their moral superiority and the play's question isn't answered as the author intended. Gerald Berkowitz

Greedy Underbelly - It's not every day that you stumble across a sketch team that physically looks as funny as their material. With their rubbery faces, engaging physicality and a collective comic voice that ranges from the whimsy to white-knuckle ride, Greedy ticks all the boxes. Clever characterisation dominates: an irritated Boadicea finds herself renamed Boudicca by her PA for the sake of both historical accuracy and political correctness, a serial killer about to horribly torture his victim is interrupted by flower deliveries and calls from his wife wondering when he'll be home. Veering off the non-PC register , but all the funnier for it, are the fortune-telling bodiless head who hurls racist abuse in between predictions, and the teenaged Dutch rock fan's mystery internet pen pal. Or there's simply grossly funny (but you can always avert your eyes when they do the pensioner cadging sexual favours off her grandson). It would be good to see more running gags. The string of 'annoying championships', played like a chess game, builds and builds throughout the set until the final confrontation brought in the biggest laugh of the night - thereby proving that anticipation is everything. Rachel Egan, Louie Bayliss, Felicity Wren and James Wren are wonderfully more hit than miss and make an extraordinarily generous ensemble. Oh, and easily the best soundtrack on the Fringe. Nick Awde

Hairdresser in the House Aurora Nova - Out of all the bizarre activities you are likely to see posing as performing arts, this show is potentially one of the most real, most frightening and most memorable. In it a former hairdresser turned performer, Irishman Raymond Keane, casts a whole new light on the notions of physical theatre and audience participation as he gets a volunteer to come onto his stage. Yes, they do get their hair cut, and in addition Keane will throw in a biological speech about hair as well as a head and shoulder massage, all for the price of the theatre ticket itself. In return the (un)fortunate clients get to sweat under the lights and maybe share a few personal details about themselves - the usual salon chit chat - in front of a fascinated audience. In a show where things are happening for real, the audience does not need much goading to get involved in the sympathetic commentary. The intermittent tense silences are real. too. and even though we spend most of the show waiting to see the result, the experience will make an interesting topic for conversation, perhaps even with your own hairdresser. Duska Radosavljevic

Natalie Haynes Pleasance - Refusing to apologise for talking faster than most people can listen, Natalie Haynes instead puts people who talk too slowly on her list of life's annoyances. Other peeves of hers are mothers and babies, and she's not too keen on teenagers either. The ever-growing inventory of People Who Annoy Her is what has prompted her to make a study of American TV detectives, since they have the uncanny power of solving the most difficult problems in under an hour. So Haynes comically takes us through the strengths and limitations of such classic crime-solvers as Colombo, Ironsides and Quincy, occasionally scaring us a bit with her encyclopaedic knowledge of obscure episodes, but also raising some fascinating questions, such as why it never occurred to the authorities that the one common factor in 261 murders was that Jessica Fletcher was in the building. Her ultimate choice of the TV 'tec to solve all life's problems may be a bit of a surprise, but she makes her case convincingly and comically in an hour that moves almost as fast as her mouth. Gerald Berkowitz

Hedda Gabler Hill Street Theatre - Performed in repertory with John Elsom's new sequel The Man Of The Future Is Dead (See separate review), this adaptation of Ibsen by Elsom and Judith Elliott is labelled a black comedy, but only because condensing it down to just over an hour puts the emphasis on Hedda's repeated failures at shaping and controlling her life - a legitimate reading of the original, if not quite all of it. Far more interesting than the abridgement are decisions made by director Christian Winkler and several of the actors that effectively reverse our expectations about how the characters are usually played. Ben Caplan's Tesman, for example, is no bumbling provincial fool, but an intelligent and forceful man, while Lucinda Cowden's Thea is far stronger and more self-assured than some might expect. And at the centre, Josie Walker resists temptations to make Hedda either a tragic heroine or a wicked witch, playing her rather as a lovestruck girl whose crush on Lovborg resembles nothing so much as the idolising of a pop star. The striking thing about all these unexpected characterisations is that they work and, while the play loses some of its emotional depth - the stove scene, for example, is a bit of petty vindictiveness with none of the horror of near-madness it should convey - they illuminate and reinvigorate the over-familiar classic. Gerald Berkowitz

Hello Dalai Underbelly - Immortality, Zeppelins, wise fish, Buddhist monks and the Chinese invasion of Tibet... There is a connection here - somehow - and all is revealed in Piggy Nero's latest comic romp of an Edwardian beauty who travels east with her manservant Spunk to marry her officer fiancé. An aircrash lands them in Shangri-La, where its immortal residents, deep in Tibet, are threatened by the invading Chinese Red Guard. Like a demented Lost Horizon, love blossoms, tragedy strikes, and fish and chips is introduced to the land that time forgot. Jamie Glassman, Clare Thomson and Matt Baynton dish out characters with wild imagination, in the process delivering a madly inspired version of Japanese pop sixties hit Sukiyaki, a full-out sumo wrestling match, and, writhing to the strains of a soft porn lesbian soundtrack, a human ibis whose skimpy leotard produces a glimpse of possibly unsettling partial nudity, even by Fringe standards. The costumes deserve a review of their own as designer Lucy Bradridge's Edwardian gear, army uniforms and geisha robes are worthy of the National. With hints of the Right Stuff or an X-rated Ripping Yarns, there are laughs aplenty, but don't let that distract from the fact that these are three talented dramatic performers who have done their research to produce a show that demands repeated viewing. Nick Awde

Hillary Agonistes C Venue - Programme notes indicate that author Nick Salamone believes he has written a Greek tragedy set in near-future America, but in fact his dystopian play is part political satire, part Shavian dialogue, and sufficiently good at both that he should not grumble about labels. Salamone imagines President Hillary Rodham Clinton facing the sudden disappearance of sixty million people worldwide in what religionists are quick to identify as the pre-apocalyptic Rapture. Trying to make sense of the event, reassure a panicky public and, incidentally, keep her job, she turns to the military, the scientists, the Church and even daughter Chelsea, who has become a Muslim, for explanations and advice. And in the process, Salamone offers satiric pictures of each, exposing them as limited by their own personal agendas, while Clinton herself does not escape some cutting-away of her image as supremely competent ice goddess. And at the same time Hillary's counsellors each argue, in their own ways, that the Age of Reason may have passed and explanations must be sought through other channels. Nancy Lindeberg makes no attempt to imitate the real Hillary, playing her as a well-meaning but fairly ineffectual political amateur. Suzan Crowley as her aide and Rebecca Metz as Chelsea each have strong scenes, and the author plays a string of characters from a TV evangelist through Stephen Hawking to a Papal Legate, making them all comic but also telling voices in the ongoing debate against dependence on mere rationality. Gerald Berkowitz

The Hood The Zoo - A man finds himself bound and hooded, and unable to remember even his name. Through relentless questioning of a reluctant fellow prisoner, he begins to piece together scraps of his back story, while we note the presence of a white-coated scientist observing them. Alex Allston's short play lets us stay one jump ahead of the narrative as we deduce that this is an experiment of some sort, that the memory the prisoner is searching for involves a past crime, and that he must work his way not only to remembering or even feeling guilt, but to full appreciation and empathy for the suffering of his victim. The fact that so much is telegraphed in advance makes the full explanation, when it comes, a bit of a letdown, especially since Allston extends the play beyond its natural ending with a long scene that merely spells out all that was effectively implied before. The strength of the work lies in the first half, as the man's determination to find the truth, however painful, takes on near-Sophoclean heroism. With solid support from Ed Corrie and Sam Wilkin, an intensely passionate performance by Toby Davies drives this section and even carries much of the play's energy through the final scene. Gerald Berkowitz

How to Explain the History of Communism to Mental Patients Zoo Southside - Eastern European playwrights have a long tradition of producing works linking madness and oppression. And so, doing precisely what it says on the tin, the title of Romanian Matei Visniec's play sums up the plot: a thinker honoured by the state is invited to the Central Hospital for the Mental Disorders of Moscow, his brief to explain communism to the inmates. The year is 1953, during Stalin's final months in power in the USSR where the glitz of his personality cult belied endemic paranoia and threat of the gulags. The horror of Stalinism (i.e. communism) somehow becomes fertile ground for classic absurdism within the context of a home for lunatics, as the visiting expert slowly becomes drawn into the secret world that the inmates have created within the insanity of the state. A vibrant physical undertow underpins the absurdist humour of Visniec's script, such as the amorphous eight-headed brown blob that represents the inmates as a collective patient, later splitting into individuals with bizarre maladies such as the one babbling about having met Stalin and the one who only chants 'Molotov-Ribbentrop!'. Unusually for such works, Jeremy Lawrence and Catherine Popesco's translation is pithy, funny and to the point. Jeremy Lawrence as the invited expert leads this 12-strong cast, from Los Angeles' based Open Fist, as they work energetically through the set pieces. Propelled by Florinel Fatulescu's panoramic direction, the result is an entertaining piece by a hard-working ensemble on one level, and a think-piece, if over-formulaic, with a message for those who seek it on another. Nick Awde

Huge Pleasance - 'We'll blow British comedy apart!' vow Warren (the maverick pushy one) and Clark (the traditional trusting one) in their grotty bedsit, gazing for encouragement at the overlarge photo of Eric and Ernie perched on the wardrobe. They have just finished writing their double act and now need a gig and live experience. Religiously, they intone the litany of great double acts and dissect the secrets of great comedy, and yet, they soon admit, all this comic navel-gazing is getting them nowhere near the audience they crave. The duo think they have sold a gag to that holy grail for comedy writers, Radio 4's Week Ending. They wait anxiously by the wireless for a mention as the credits are announced at the end of the programme - the disappointment when their names don't appear is heartbreaking. They bounce resolutely back with a blueprint for world domination, and yet rejection drives a wedge between the friends resulting in betrayal. The fallout proves to be darkly funny. As Warren, Alan Drake is Citizen Smith-like in his intensity of misguided self-belief, trampling over his talented better half Clark, played with doe-eyed resilience by Oliver Fishman. Together Drake and Fishman make you realise that their characters are doomed to be forever funny in private, where lines such as 'If you haven't been to Cambridge, forget it!' ring true in the closed world that is British comedy. And yet, despite focused performances and Jason Lawson's tight direction, things flags towards the end. Penned by Jez Butterworth, Benn Miller and Simon Godley, this play has the ring of authenticity and yet its success rests ultimately on its protagonists to physically convince of the chemistry that unites them - something not in the script and which was missing on the night. Nick Awde

Hyenas Hill Street Theatre - Paris, 1832. Anti-monarchist riots plague the city as does the cholera epidemic that is sweeping northern Europe. A condemned man confronts us unapologetically from his cell. Tomorrow, as he relentlessly reminds us, he faces the guillotine. The crime of which he was accused: the murder of his mother and lover. Adapted from the French original by prolific newcomer Christian Simeon and based on a true incident, this one-man play is a full-frontal assault on our natural sympathies by a compellingly articulate young man whose 170-year-old voice is disturbingly familiar. Nothing is quite what it seems - disturbingly, at no point does he demand our sympathy or even understanding. He may be innocent, he may be mad, he may be neither. Daniel Pettrow gets right under the skin of his protagonist and maintains his constantly challenging front without aggression, confidently playing for every shade of emotion and impact, and so avoiding adroitly the one-note level that usually sustains similar productions. Technically Hyenas is a double tour de force. Paul Verdier's understated direction and accessible adaptation created the perfect platform for Pettrow's prodigious memory and physicality to make this compelling watching. Indeed, half the time the actor has you too unnerved to risk taking your attention from him. Nick Awde

Hysteria Aurora Nova - This is a potentially simple story that mixes physical theatre with spoken. It looks at nothing more than a couple on a first date but periodically manages to get beneath the skin of a society as well as the three protagonists. The star is actually silent. Director Lucinka Eisler plays the lugubrious, blank-faced waiter who serves the couple. Bringing to mind Mr Bean, she remains straight-faced throughout but with slow movement and precise behaviour, conveys disapproval brilliantly. Eating at top restaurants is supposed to be a pleasurable experience with understated but attentive service. However, seeing Hysteria, you get a feel for the disdain with which these servants must view so many of their customers. Arguably, in this case, the disapproval is justified. The man, Ben Lewis is a priggish social scientist who regularly slips out of character to rush off and deliver a lecture on the impact of global warming and societal change. His guest, Giulia Innocenti says little for some time but eventually the flood gates open and by the climactic end, their differences forgotten, they find happiness, at least for a moment. Hysteria is an odd play with its combination of theatrical styles but more often than not, the experimentation pays off to great comic effect. Philip Fisher

(I am) Nobody's Lunch Assembly Rooms - Cabaret is big in New York, so it is good that Edinburgh gets to see a fine example of the genre. For some reason, while the UK gets the odd musical revue, this form has never really caught on. The Civilians have subversive tastes and their work is rather like the darkest satirical comedies that one might hear on Radio 4 or see on Channel 4, but with an American slant. As the 28 word subtitle indicates, they are interested in the quirky and have compiled this piece, a winner of a Fringe First in Week 1, from interviews with what they call 'actual persons', as well as an alien from the Pleiades. This is therefore a completely new style of theatre - Verbatim Cabaret. One wonders what some of their earnest contributors will have made of having their words sent up to a piano accompaniment from Andy Boroson. The subjects are the right ones for our time - love, fear and Tom Cruise's sexuality - is he gay? In a very sharp, almost breathless set, the five performers get laughs from public thoughts about these subjects, often cleverly juxtaposed as in the case of two students, one neurotically fearful, the other 'whatever'. Probably the most interesting is a 24-year-old woman who apparently has control over the system that decides whether overseas students get visas, and an Egyptian student. The exposé of a system gone to pot will not have endeared The Civilians to their Government but should give their audience a taste of the ever-popular 'shock and awe' at the behaviour of George Dubya and his team. Philip Fisher

Improbable Frequency  Traverse - This semi-musical comedy by Arthur Riordan (words) and the team called Bell Helicopter (music) comes to Edinburgh from Dublin's Rough Magic, and for most of its length it's a constantly surprising and quirky delight. I call it a semi-musical because most of the cast speak their lyrics to music rather than actually singing, which produces an effect just unusual enough to add to the fun. The plot has something to do with a British code-breaker sent to neutral Ireland in 1941 to sort out what's going on with a radio DJ whose record choices seem to predict the weather. He encounters a femme fatale (naturally), a virginal damsel (ditto), an eccentric scientist (ditto) and secret agents of various stripes and obviousness. The science fiction element in the plot eventually gets a bit too silly, but along the way there is a lot of very clever word-play and wit, a lot of fooling around with the conventions of the genre, spot-on direction by Lynne Parker and performances by (among others) Peter Hanly, Cathy White and Lisa Lambe. Oh yes, and possibly the funniest simulated sex scene you'll ever encounter. Gerald Berkowitz

In Pursuit of Cardenio Underbelly - The irrepressible serial enthusiast Ken Campbell turns all the force of his intellect and personality to the art of dramatic improvisation, leading a small company of actors in what amounts to a series of master classes meant to culminate at the end of this brief run in the group creation of the supposedly lost Shakespearean play Cardenio. In practice, at least at an early performance, the group never get near the play, but go through a series of acting exercises such as practising different levels of and styles of laughter and crying, or improvising speeches in what Campbell persists in calling Yambic Pentameter. An exploration of the four humours is inaccurate but entertaining, while the challenges to create a sonnet and Elizabethan song on the spot play like excepts from a particularly ambitious improv comedy show. It remains to be seen whether they succeed in creating Cardenio or even reach that stage in the process in the eight days of the run. Audiences along the way must be satisfied with the peep behind the curtain these training sessions and their charismatic leader provide. Gerald Berkowitz

Inside Cherry Pitz Gilded Balloon Teviot - Cyndi Freeman's solo show, co-written with Zack Stratis, offers a loving parody of the rags-to-stardom theatrical cliche in the account of a poor girl from Nowheresville whose childhood ambition to be a drag queen like her father is thwarted by the handicap of actually being a girl. Departing for Tinseltown, she undergoes all the misadventures awaiting a would-be starlet before achieving success in the ironic guise of an Elvis impersonator. Somewhere in the story there's also a childhood sweetheart who fell into a vat of radioactive waste and became a superhero, and an A-list Tinseltown star with a secret of his own, but the general mix of cliche and absurdity is part of the fun. Somewhat handicapped by a small and unresponsive audience at an early performance, Freeman was unable to generate the communal spirit of good fun on which  a fragile construct like this depends, and there were moments when the strain showed in wavering accents and voices for the various characters and in singing imitations that lacked the requisite Little Voice accuracy. With more responsive audiences the distinction between talentless character and talented performer should become clearer and the hour more successful. Gerald Berkowitz

Insomnibabble  Underbelly - One guy plays a character and the other plays Everybody Else - that's a familiar Fringe genre, but rarely can it have been done with as much wit, high energy and ensemble playing as in this two-hander from Big Wow, written and directed by Robert Farquhar. Mark Rutter plays an office worker with insomnia, for whom night thoughts, half-dreams and reality are beginning to blend into one continuous and  indistinguishable flow, a nightmare quality enhanced by having Tim Lynskey play everyone from his jargon-spouting boss through a date-from-heck to all the other members of an insomniac support group. Silliness abounds, one scene or character unexpectedly morphs into another and, if it eventually gets a bit overpowering and a bit repetitive, there is more invention here, and more genuine laughs, than in a half-dozen typical fringe comedies put together. Gerald Berkowitz




Janka St. Cuthbert¹s Church - The memories of Holocaust survivor Janka Festinger, as written down by her son Oscar Speace and performed by his wife Janice Noga, are by their very nature moving, especially since they give a very human face to the terrible story whose magnitude too often makes it incomprehensible. Janka's account, from the Romanian ghetto to Auschwitz to a labour camp to America, tells of gross inhumanities and small acts of gratuitous cruelty, but the narrative is never allowed to lose its immediacy, with very private griefs, like the death of a sister, able to touch us more intimately than larger horrors, and with the narrator herself repeatedly escaping from the most painful moments by jumping ahead to happier times in America. Janice Noga does little either to add to or get in the way of the material, merely sitting at a lectern and reading from a script with the studied sweetness of a story lady in a children's library. This sort of piece is ultimately immune to criticism, and can go on being performed before synagogue and church groups indefinitely, though at almost two hours, it is too long by at least a third, with both the story's power and the performer's allowed to wane. Gerald Berkowitz

Jesus: The Guantanamo Years C Venue - Abie Bowman deserves a comic sainthood simply for the idea of Jesus Christ as a Middle East terrorist suspect incarcerated in Guantanamo's Camp X-Ray. In fact, Our Saviour has just escaped and hotfooted it across the water to Edinburgh to continue the greatest stand-up story ever told. He's back on the road, recapturing the success of his first tour 2000 years ago when he wowed the crowds with the loaves and fishes trick amongst others. He admits that attitudes have changed. He's still trying to claim royalties on the Bible and moans about the use of his copyrighted material in Monty Python's Life of Brian, threatening to tell John Cleese jokes in revenge. Health and safety considerations mean that his stigmata have had to go while he acknowledges that in pre-Aids days the idea of a billion Catholics drinking his blood every week wouldn't have been considered a problem. He has also discovered that the modern world is not quite geared up towards anyone with a beard presenting themselves at a US airport without proper ID after emerging from a cave in Palestine. You can see the problem - as did the American authorities who promptly packed him off him to Guantanamo where the Americans panic after thinking all the Muslim detainees are on hunger strike only to be told it's Ramadan. Like all good stand-ups, Jesus's own personal life comes up for scrutiny - his aged father, for example, gives him grief by refusing to retire - while politics also suffuses the laid-back observations. In the fight against terror, he idly calculates the amount of airplanes Al-Qaeda needs to blow up to match the mind-numbing statistics of deaths caused by medical malpractice in the USA each year. Bowman's kosher beard, deadpan Irish tones and gently barbed delivery ensure that the irony never gets in the way of the laughs. Funny, thoughtful, impassioned and one white-knuckle joke make this a classic encounter that should be made required viewing for all. Nick Awde

Jimmy James: Divas Dead or Alive The Bongo Club - 'You might have to close your eyes for this one!' jokes Jimmy James as he launches into Private Dancer. But in reality you want to keep your eyes wide open as the pint-sized, rotund white singer opens his mouth and the sizzling black tones of Tina Turner fill the hall. Rarely has belief been so suspended - and all this without wig or frock. Jimmy James made his name in the eighties as a Marilyn Monroe drag act that got him into top revues with oodles of TV exposure. He gave all that up to become a singer although, bizarrely, his Marilyn is the least successful of his voices. His Cher, on the other hand, is simply mindblowing. He teased us with selections from her hippy, disco and grandiose Turn Back Time eras and I suspect that most of us in the audience would rather he did that all night, till dawn if need be. Anyway, I digress. James' personal favourites are clearly Billy Holiday, Eartha Kitt and Macy Gray, and he purrs out their hits like there's no tomorrow. His delivery of each diva is a mini masterclass of phrasing and breath control. Unusually, he also does a long routine with Betty Davies and recreates the legendary duet by Judy Garland and a young Barbra Streisand on Garland's TV show singing Streisand live to a projection of his own Garland. Magic. Nick Awde

Johnny Boskak Is Feeling Funny Traverse - In 2000, actor/writer Greig Coetzee created a stir with White Men with Weapons, his one-man play about his experiences amongst the conscripts in the South African army killing the enemies of apartheid. Just as savagely funny is this, his follow-up on what happened to those conscripts after they were kicked out of the army into a country now ruled by those they were trained to kill. The anti-hero is Johnny Boskak, today. He's not unhappy to be a drifter and though he is not fond of the memories of his military service, he is proud of whatever it was that his addled brain can remember he fought for. What he does know is that the new South Africa has little place for him. Black and white alike see him as an embarrassment even he describes himself as 'white trash apartheid abomination' while he is so that even the Truth Commission can't be bothered with him. This is probably a good point to bring up the fact that Johnny talks in verse. Half iambic pentameter, half rap, and peppered with Johannesburg slang, Coetzee's delivery makes it instantly accessible and, paradoxically, an integral part of the ill-educated Johnny's personality. Each line of doggerel blends poetry that is both elevated and street, pumped along by Bert Kitchen's original folk and rock soundtrack played live on moody acoustic guitar. Adding a surreal effect is the odd but somehow appropriate use of biblical terms and imagery in which to couch this otherwise profane picaresque. The result could be described as Pilgrim's Progress meets Clockwork Orange. Anyway, back to the story. Doomed to wander the backwater dorps of his land, his only sin being a 'fucked-up white boy', Johnny sets off for Orange Free State (which is neither orange nor free) seeking salvation in the town of Bethlehem. Refused a room at the inn, in a bar he hooks up with a scary man mountain trucker who's looking for the woman who dumped him. Johnny finds her in a pool hall (she's called Eve), falls for her and so the two hit the road, man mountain in hot pursuit. At this point the story takes a sharp left swerve into Natural Born Killers territory. Armed only with a loo, a bed, a table and Genna Lewis's finger on the pulse direction, Coetzee prowls the stage, filling it with Johnny's tics, manias and larger than life expressions and those of the mad characters Johnny encounters, creating a one-man show quite unlike any other. Nick Awde

Ketzal Aurora Nova - You may find yourself in awe of Derevo's imagery, as usual, but Anton Adasinsky's latest creation is not there to be enjoyed. If you are a fan, you may want to file this experience into the company's dark phase. If you happen to be a Derevo virgin you should brace yourself for quite a difficult deflowering in one of the opening scenes. A cross between a deconstructionist, post-industrial nightmare, a series of attempts at purgation rituals and a bad acid trip, this is a relentlessly tortured experience. The fact that the number of company members has doubled without an apparent reason may suggest a slight faltering of inspiration and clarity too. Focussing on a Mexican mythical bird, Ketzal is a metaphysical exploration of the principles of creation (both biological and artistic) as a struggle against the forces of darkness, resistance and gravity itself. Brought about by a swirling dance in a swelling pool of water, hope seems to triumph at the end of this protracted crisis and, reminded that it is always dartkest before the dawn, we are finally released into a blindingly cathartic curtain call. Duska Radosavljevic

Shappi Khorsandi - Asylum Speaker Pleasance - Within the space of a few seconds Shappi Khorsandi has already got everyone laughing and at ease. Yes, the attic space is like a furnace, yes it's not an easy time to be Iranian, and yes thank you she has lost weight. But despite her admission of being a classic 'box ticker' case, you'll get none of that traditional women's stand-up nor a bleeding-heart Muslim liberal. The more specific Khorsandi gets, the more universal her humour becomes. And possibly this was only show in history where two buckets of ice were spontaneously passed round a sweltering audience. The show's title derives from the fact that her family came to the UK as asylum seekers 'long before it was fashionable', protected by the terrorist squad in London after a car bomb plot was uncovered to murder her father. Iran, understandably, then gets several mentions, including the present Iranian president - 'mullah lite' - whose recent comments on obliterating Israel get Khorsandi wondering how he would deal with this in terms of PR disaster limitation. This somehow leads into the comic consequences of her country of birth changing its name from Persia which in turn leads into a barbed history lesson of international intrigue between the shah, the ayatollahs and the West that Rob Newman would be envious of. A whizz through subjects such as halal wine, Asian speed dating and Iranian first names pokes gentle fun at the accidental racism and attitudes she still encounters. You also think a bit. And, since she claims to have checked with the Guardian over what's PC and isn't, you can breathe easy and let those laughs out. This year's show ends with a lengthy section on Khorsandi's dad, a satirist driven twice out of his homeland. Touching, scary, funny, his life story manages to sum up US policy in the Middle East, our paranoid security here in the UK, and her own identity as a devoted Iranian daughter growing up in the leafy suburbs, concealing the English rose lurking within. You also get to understand exactly where his daughter gets her wicked sense of humour from. Nick Awde

Killing Time C Venue - A man and a woman are mid-conversation in a comfortable sitting room. They make an attractive pair and, though it is clear that they are strangers, she is already recounting details of her unhappy marriage and violent husband. And he clearly has a story to tell too, if only to reveal what is in that mysterious briefcase on the table. Nothing is quite as it seems, and, as they unfold the twists and turns of Richard Stockwell's provocative thriller, Claudia Christian and George Calil run the whole gamut of emotions as the balance of power shifts between them with each fresh revelation. The chemistry they generate ensures that passions run high. This whodunit for the thinking person is a homage in some ways to Sleuth and Deathtrap although here the suspense feeds off sexual tension rather than humour. Distractingly, at several points the plot leaps over improbability to keep the story moving and risks undermining otherwise convincing performances from Christian and Calil. Though director Jacqui Garbett keeps her finger firmly on the pulse, in the final quarter the script dips, understandable in such an intense two-hander played in just the one room. The main result is that Calil momentarily loses steam as his character flounders. Luckily for all, Christian gives a gripping, electrifying performance right up to the final, violent denouement. Nick Awde

Daniel Kitson - C-90  Traverse - Even as a stand-up comic Daniel Kitson was more a storyteller than a gag man, so his movement into storytelling theatre is a natural and welcome progression for him. In this self-written piece, he tells the bittersweet story of an audio tape librarian who has filed and archived thousands of tapes over the years without listening to any. On his last day on the job he is anonymously sent a tape, and listening to it opens his heart to music for the first time as well as setting him off on a detective hunt for the sender. Meanwhile, we also hear about the local lollipop lady (i.e., school crossing guard, so called for her stop-sign-on-a-stick) and a few other members of the village. What is essentially a 30-40 page short story is thoroughly charming and frequently comic, with echoes of Woody Allen in its self-depreciating humour ('While an excellent vet, she was a terrible driver, and that morning had hit two dogs'.), of Steve Martin in its structure and understated moral, and of Garrison Kiellor in its instant creation of a village milieu and characters. As performer, Kitson oddly makes no concession whatever to his audience, speaking a bit too quickly to be kept up with and talking right through the laughter so that whole chunks of the narrative are likely to be lost. Gerald Berkowitz

Klepto C Central - Performance poet Steve Tasane doesn't claim to be a kleptomaniac - his adventures in shoplifting were generated by need, pleasure in his own expertise and, during a brief anarchist phase, political statement. In a mix of poems and chat, he evokes the romance of petty theft and also the sociological implications. He offers some practical advice (Be blatant, not furtive), dismisses Richard Madely as a rank amateur for hitting the same supermarket again and again, and recreates the half-comic embarrassment of being caught in the act. His poems range from the awkward rhythms and half-rhymes of rap to the quite moving prayer of the poor man forced to steal - Let me wash away my sins with stolen soap. Although a strong political undercurrent runs through the piece, as when he notes with pointed irony that only the rich get to claim kleptomania as a defence, while a third of the women in British prisons are there for petty theft, what carries this slight and fragile 45 minute performance is his own informal charm. Gerald Berkowitz

The Kransky Sisters - We Don't Have Husbands Assembly Rooms - They shuffle onstage, then off again - the tuba needs a bucket to drain into. Once they're finally sat down, they fiddle about with their musical instruments and supplementary domestic appliances. As if by accident they notice the audience. Welcome to the Kransky Sisters. They sing, they chat amongst themselves, they tell you how their lives have opened up somewhat since the recent success that has taken them out of their tiny Queensland hometown to metropoli like Edinburgh. They could be Cruella Deville's three lost spinster sisters, Antipodeal cousins of the Addams Family. Actually only two speak, one sibling echoing the other's words to create a human Doppler effect while sister number three keeps obediently shtum behind her tuba. The songs they perform were learned off the kitchen wireless - they were denied magazines and TV in their isolated childhood. Familiar hits are reworked: an oom-pah-pah Sunrise Sunset, a morbid Bright Eyes, and, of course, when they do Thriller it's not in the least bit ghoulish as they give it a tambourine work-out. There is some mystery as to what happened to their father or why the neighbours' animals keep on disappearing. This family literally has skeletons in the closet and, thanks to Annie Lee, Christine Johnston and Michele Watt, we can perversely join in the joy of their gothic-galore genius. Nick Awde

Lady Chatterley's Lover The Zoo - DH Lawrence would have approved of this imaginative reworking of his controversial novel, updated to 1984. It was a tumultous year. Class war raged as Margaret Thatcher's Tories pulled off a landslide election while sleaze scandals were already breaching their ranks. An affair, therefore, between the neglected, beautiful wife of a landed Tory grandee and her ex-squaddie groundsman would have been as explosive for Thatcherite Britain as for the times in which Lawrence lived. But the point here, true to his spirit, is that sex is natural and not to blame - it is the constraints of society that are unnatural. Sally Gooda is both fragile and feisty as Connie Chatterley, chafing at the velvet chains of marriage to her wheelchair-bound impotent husband, a powerful party fundraiser played with world-weariness by Nicholas Thompson. As Connie's lover Mellors, Paul Stacey uses his working-class animal magnetism to throw up a mirror to her privileged life. Of course there are sex scenes, and while the frequent nudity is graphic it adds emotional realism to the lovers' trysts - although perhaps it makes uncomfortable viewing within such an enclosed space, at least from where this reviewer was sitting. Director Neil McCurley makes inventive use of this venue's narrow stage and pillars, using Matthew Stacey's effective lighting to create time and locations, crossfading with cinematographic clarity. Admittedly the script needs a good couple of editing bouts, and the individual performances are patchy while every non-RP accent obliterates intelligibility. Despite this, the ensemble works commendably hard to produce a work that convinces in the end by being as political as it is passionate. Nick Awde

Andrew Lawrence - How to Butcher Your Loved Ones Pleasance - Like a gremlin freshly escaped from Sir Henry's crumbling mansion at Rawlinson End, or the bastard son of Edward Gorey and Cait Blanchett, Andrew Lawrence peels back his straggly hair and shields his eyes against the stage lights. His mouth opens in a crooked grin of recognition - we've been spotted. Indeed we have, and there's no escaping. With a rare display of delight, the otherwise miserable Lawrence proceeds to detail in darkly dippy tones the story of his life. First of all, he is ginger and has always been so, causing even his own family to abandon him in Croydon and schoolkids to abuse him in the playground. You don't want to laugh but you do, even when he takes you places you really don't want to go. And Lawrence exhumes quite a few dark places, most notably in the song where his soaring warble relates the tale of the unwelcome return of the corpse of the ex-girlfriend he left for dead in a lake. There are red herrings galore, as his left-field reasoning somehow gets us into a perfectly plausible story about the right to poo all over John Lewis's bed department or wondering which part of the family cat's anatomy his Malteser has been in. Although he still has a little way to go, his awesome timing and ability to suspend belief at 500 yards make Lawrence the perfect choice for a TV vehicle. Nick Awde

Levelland  Assembly Rooms - This first play by comedian Rich Hall is the very model of political drama, telling a good story that illustrates its thesis without having to resort to spelling it out or preaching. Under Guy Masterson's sharp-edged direction, Hall himself plays a Texas radio talk-show host who believes in America's manifest destiny to rule the world and do whatever it takes to maintain its dominance and standard of living, and who reserves particular contempt for the religious nuts among his callers. Then, in a plot I won't detail, he is forced to watch an innocent religous nut being exploited and victimised by a crooked capitalist and a ruthless representative of the government - in short, to face the logical extension of his so-glibly-held beliefs. The play works on its simple plot level, but also provides a criticism of American presumption that is all the stronger for being indirect. Along with Hall, capturing the man's journey from smugness to uncertainty, there are fine performances from Rory Keenan as the victim whose paranoia does not mean that they aren't actually after him, and David Calvito and Mike Wilmot as two different kinds of American nightmare. Gerald Berkowitz

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond Of Matches Underbelly - As a creator of theatre, Marcia Carr has got a great deal of originality, energy and taste. As a perfumer, her stamina is impressive. However, in this surreal story of an androgynous, socially isolated young girl dealing with her father's death, translated by Sheila Fischman from the book by Gaetan Soucy and adapted by Carr, she gives herself an unusual challenge in terms of communication with her audience. Although obviously keen to endear herself to us and occasionally facing us with touching innocence, she also insists on a shrill and monotonously hyperactive delivery which subtracts more than it adds to her storytelling and characterisation. She also makes some odd directoral decisions with Daryl Branch as the Brother lurking around the edges of the stage for no apparent reason, and framed video footage with the landscapes and moving portraits of characters referred to in the narrative. None of these devices help to isolate what exactly this story is about or the point of its being told, although there are evident flashes of brilliance in the prose itself and this production's buoyant mise-en-scene. Dudka Radosavljevic

Little Red Things Bedlam - Lots of good energy and positive intentions seem to have gone into the making of this show. Structured as a conventional fairytale with a battle of good and evil at its crux, Little Red Things is primarily an ecologically friendly thatrical experiement. Insence sticks, rubber puppets, camouflage gear, hand held lights and a live piano score are brought together in a bid to create an atmospherically effective context for a story that subsequently gets lost in all the technicalities. The audience loved the heart-warming, life-affirming message of this show which seeks to pinpoint the source of good things in life. As a creation of a group of young people this is indeed a promising if slightly overambitious project which still remains at the level of an interesting experiment. As a piece of theatre it is a basic matter of style over content gone wrong. Duska Radosavljevic

Long Life The Hub - One of the tragedies of the post-soviet world is the way pensioners have been quietly brushed under the carpet. The state can't afford them while crumbling family networks are forced to ignore them. In showing the minutiae of their daily existence, New Riga Theatre's funny-sad piece helps highlight their plight. Monika Pormale's fabulously cluttered set runs along the side of the Hub. Minus the separating walls, these are the fully furnished rooms inhabited by pensioners in a communal flat typical of the old USSR, where entire families would live in one room, sharing kitchen and bathroom. For two hours we watch the occupants like goldfish in a bowl. They wake up, they go to the loo, they wash, they cook, they amuse themselves, they socialise, they crowd around a UV lamp, they go to bed. Of course there's a wireless that refuses to be tuned, clothes to be put on that get in a tangle, two people trying to get through the same door. This piece from Latvia is silent but it needs no words, being filled with perfectly comprehensible grunts, exclamations and muffled songs. Predictable sections of the audience laughed overloudly and even louder at such madly hilarious scenes as the wrenching sight of a woman trying to wash her Parkinsonian husband, or the same man trying to sit down, his ravaged body pathetically fighting what would be a natural action for the rest of us. There is a grimy reality to all this, reinforced by the characters' stylised palsy without obscuring their comic elements. Certainly the performers do a great job - it is quite a shock when they take their bow and reveal how young they are - and the intensity of Alvis Hermanis's vision is remarkable. And yet this is not a play. Not even physical theatre, this is performance art, far removed from the pensioners it portrays and who would hardly flock to this nor be able to afford the ticket price. A sign outside grandly declares that 'due to the nature of the performance latecomers will not be admitted'. You have to smile at the preciousness. There is no magic moment that a latecomer will shatter. Quite the contrary. The ironic reality is that Long Life would better serve the public by being installed where the audience can come and go at will - a department store window comes to mind - and run for 24 hours. Proceeds collected in a bucket outside would then go to a deserving charity. Nick Awde




Love - the Radio Edit C cubed - In the 1950s there was a brief fad of novelty records that sampled very short excerpts from current pop hits, cut and pasted into a new comic context, such as a mock news report. Margaret Whittum revives the device here in a mime and lip-sync show whose boy-meets-girl plot is told entirely through brief snippets of pop recordings from Sinatra and Ray Charles through the Spice Girls and Britney Spears. And so a couple meet to a few bars of Hello I Love You Won't You Tell Me Your Name, split up with Hit The Road Jack, and so on. Part of the fun with this genre is trying to anticipate the next sound bite or being surprised by a clever juxtaposition (Yesterday for waking up after a one-night-stand). All that is asked of the onstage cast is that they keep up with the quick changes on the sound track, as acting and characterisations are openly broad and cartoonish. The company are to be commended for being able to stretch what is essentially a five-minute review sketch idea so very far beyond its natural limit. But ultimately this is a one-joke concept, and the joke must inevitably wear thin sometime before the hour is out. Gerald Berkowitz

Love Labours Won  Gilded Balloon Teviot - Playwright/producer/director/actor Ryan J-W Smith has taken on the formidable task of writing/producing/directing/acting in a neo-Shakespearean comedy, and in at least three of those roles he hasn't done a bad job at all. His romantic comedy borrows an idea or two from Two Gentlemen of Verona,  A Midsummer Night's Dream and Much Ado About Nothing, with play-the-field Caesus mocking his romantic buddy Valentine until both fall for the actress Annabelle. Various stratagems (some generated by their abandoned girlfriends, some by Annabelle and her fellow actors) later, the boys have learned lessons and been affected in unexpected ways. Smith writes pretty good rhymed couplets, some of which are quite witty, and he captures exactly the right early-Shakespearean rom-com flavour. His only failing is as a director, since almost everyone in the cast, himself included, is wooden and lifeless, the only exceptions being Adam D. Millard's natural and ironic Caesus and Tessa Nicholson's stylised Annabelle. They act in two different styles, different also from everyone around them, but they alone seem to realise this is a comedy, and the play only comes alive when they're around. Gerald Berkowitz

Love Remains Pleasance Dome - A woman invites a former lover to a drink and a talk, and challenges him to a truth game, ostensibly to break any romantic illusions he may still have about her. But as various unpleasant truths are told by each and reacted to by the other, it becomes less clear which of the two has still to be freed from the emotional bonds of the lost love affair. That much is clear and sometimes affecting in Brett Goldstein's play, which has all the earmarks of having been written out of personal experience and pain. What is less clear is why he is putting his characters through this ordeal. The power to hurt shifts back and forth, but the purpose is lost in the process, and by the end little seems to have been accomplished beyond the exorcism of some spite. Without a clear sense of character motivation or authorial intention, neither acting, by Goldstein and Caroline Steinbeis, nor direction by Andrew Keatley is able to build and sustain coherent characterisations out of all the twists and reversals. Gerald Berkowitz

 

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

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Reviews - Edinburgh Festival - 2006