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The Theatreguide.London Reviews

EDINBURGH FESTIVAL AND FRINGE 2007

The several simultaneous events that make up 'The Edinburgh Festival' - the International Festival, the Fringe, the Comedy Festival, etc. - bring literally thousands of shows and performers to the Scottish capital each August. Virtually all of these shows tour after Edinburgh, and many come to London, so the Festival is a unique preview of the coming year.

No one can see more than a small fraction of what's on offer, but with an expanded review team that once again included Edinburgh veterans Duska Radosavljevic and Philip Fisher, we were able to review more than 180 shows.

Originally spread over several pages, they've been squeezed onto two pages for this archive. They're in alphabetical order (solo performers by last name), with A-L on a first page and M-Z on this one.

Scroll down for the show you're looking for, or just browse.


Chris McCausland - Kate McLennan - Mabou Mines Dollhouse - Macbeth: Who Is That Bloodied Man? - Man Across The Way - Carey Marx - Meli Melo II - A Midsummer Night's Tree - Mile End - Miracle in Rwanda - Shazia Mirza - Nick Mohammed - Mouse - Mutton - Next Best Thing - Night Time - A Nocturnal Suite - The Nothinglefttolose - Not In My Name - Odd and Abandoned - On Danse - Opera Burlesque - Orgasm, the Musical - Orpheus - Painkillers - Phaedre - The Phone Book Live - Pit - Play on Words --Playing Burton - Poppea - Popsicle Departure 1989 = Lucy Porter - Potted Potter - Owen Powell - Private Peaceful - The Prodigal Daughter - Punch and Judy Redux - The Queef of Terence - Queen Bess - Queen of the Slaughter - Rap Canterbury Tales - Rebus McTaggart - Red State - Lizzie Roper - Rosebud - Scarborough - Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre - Shakespeare for Breakfast - Something Blue - Sorry, Love - Special - Victor Spinetti - The Spoils - Spread - Stenclmusic - Stonewall - Stoopud Fucken Animals - Story of a Rabbit - Subway - Talking Pants - Talking to Space Hoppers - Tell - Terrible Infants - Timeless - Jimmy Tingle - Tony! The Blair Musical - Touch - Traces - Truckstop - Truth in Translation - Unnatural Acts - Unsex Me Here - Venus as a Boy - The Voice of Things - The Voices in My Head - Waiting for Alice - The Walworth Farce - Wasted (Y)ears - What If? - Wish I Had A Sylvia Plath - Worlds End - Wunderkind - Xenu Is Loose - Yellow Moon - Andy Zaltzman

Go to first (A-L) page

 
Chris McCausland's Planes, Trains and Shameful Ordeals Laughing Horse @ The Counting House Chris McCausland embarks on an hour-long shaggy dog tale about a delayed easyJet flight to Edinburgh. He interrupts himself with more red herrings and asides than you could shake a Ronnie Corbett at and the result is an engrossingly funny if uneven evening. The planes and trains of the title refer mainly to the shameful ordeals that Chris seems to attract no matter where he is - he puts his foot in it one way or another wherever there are other people, and transport seems to be a particularly fruitful source of embarrassing situations. Actually, even when he's by himself he ends up shamefaced and his centrepiece tale involves him coming home drunk without a lighter. He tries to light a fag from the lightbulb in the ceiling light and the mini-carnage that follows has him flat on his face in more ways than one. Other topics include a list of hints on making the most from freebies such as tips on taking a sickie or looking for bargains in Surbiton via flapjacks, a cup of coffee, a waitress, spare change and gravity. Since McCausland is blind, he peppers the set with how crap he has been at losing his sight - you laugh with him as he bemoans his habit of leaving white sticks around town or going into the wrong shops on the high street. His PC routine falters and the set dips somewhat as he loses the audience for a while. Nevertheless, McCausland's gloriously skewered logic and impish self-effacement pulls him through. 'A groan's as good as a laugh,' he says after a slowburner of a punchline - but the groans come mostly of recognition since we've all been this unlucky before, we've just probably never admitted it before a boisterous Saturday night crowd. Nick Awde

Kate McLennan -The Debutante Diaries Gilded Balloon In Australia, the sixth form debutante ball would seem to be a rite of life's passage. And even if you have no experience of the highs and lows of having endured one, Kate McLennan effortlessly makes you feel belle of the ball by singlehandedly creating an oddball cast who vividly tell the story of the build-up to one particular ball and what transpires there. Stacey is the blonde anxious to get her boob job and anus bleaching sorted before the big day, permanently bitching about everyone else to her mate Adam, the hard-done-by Only Gay in the School who's just as anxious to make himself into a cause celebre if the school bans his male partner. Crystal is the belle of the school who sees the ball as her launchpad to the life of genteel glamour that awaits her coming of age ceremony. Meanwhile her boyfriend, football jock Maddy, is nervously working out how to tell her that he's not quite the material she's looking for. Desperate to keep up with them all is Sophie, the shy homely mouse who's a bit hopeless at everything, including getting her gran to knock up her home-made party frock. Rubbing his hands in sleazy anticipation of the PR opportunity is local promoter Guy, while watching on with undisguised disdain is teacher Carla horrified by the memories of her own deb ball that are being awakened. Despite a limited range of delivery, McLennan creates lasting characters that make a real story. These are not vapid caricatures - McLennan gives each of her characters a zinging personality, bringing to life their strengths and weaknesses in such a way that you feel for their struggle to make something of themselves at the ball. Her comic timing is spot on, too, and the scene where Carla wearily observes natural selection happening all around her in the high school canteen would make Joyce Grenfell blush. Nick Awde

Mabou Mines Dollhouse King's Theatre The women in this adaptation of The Doll's House are all normal sized or taller, the men all under four feet tall, and the set built to their proportions so that the women must stoop or crawl to get through a door. A bit literal, perhaps, but we get the point - the women are trapped in a male-created world that is too small for them. The question now is what else this production will have to tell us about the play in the remaining two hours and forty-nine minutes. And the answer is not much. There is a point being made by having Maude Mitchell pitch her voice and characterisation of Nora somewhere between an idiot child and the dumbest of dumb blondes - she is indeed being infantalised by her husband - but, as with the sizes, the device says what it has to say within moments and then lingers on to diminishing effect. There is considerably less point to giving everyone silly accents of sometimes Clouseau-ish thickness (Nora becomes Nyura), to having the maid be grotesquely pregnant, and to making a running and irrelevant series of jokes about the onstage pianist. And actively fighting the meanings of the play are a couple of phantasmagorical nightmare sequences, some simulated oral sex, and determinedly unsubtle direction that has everyone move within seconds from unironic nineteenth-century melodramatic excesses to pratfall slapstick and back. New York-based Mabou Mines has been directed by Lee Breuer since 1970 and has made its name with both original works and deconstructions of classics, and Dollhouse reflects some of what is recognisably the house style. But by the time this play reaches its end, and the most famous sound effect in world drama has been replaced by a dream sequence for Torvald in which Nora stands naked and bald in one of the King's Theatre boxes as they lip sync to operatic voices singing the dialogue of the final scene, backed by a chorus of puppets, then all pretense of illuminating or adapting Ibsen has been dropped, and the evening has become a celebration of Lee Breuer, by Lee Breuer. Gerald Berkowitz

Macbeth - Who is that Bloodied Man? Old College Quad Biuro Podrozy's Macbeth on stilts with pyrotechnics and motorbikes was the talk of the town well before the show opened. They were last here with Carmen Funebre, an outdoors epic dirge about the Bosnian war some twelve years ago, which gave them audience and critical acclaim all over the world. And the buzz does not seem to have worn off yet. Focusing on texture rather than the text, their reinterpretation of the Scottish play is an operatic spectacle with moments of exquisite lyricism. Only a few familiar speeches act as narrative signposts in the tale combining elements of psychological thriller, World War 2 drama, domestic tragedy and ritualistic theatre, but we are never at a loss as to what is going on. Particularly interesting is Director/ Adaptor Pawel Szkotak's reading of Lady Macbeth as a white-clad tyrannical house mistress with an obsessive-compulsive disorder. In such a household the husband's lawn-mower rattles with the skulls of his political opponents, and it is not difficult to see how all this could even spiral into a campaign of ethnic cleansing. On such a scale, the guilt-ridden moment in which Lady Macbeth attempts to get the damn spot out therefore affords us with a moment of naked vulnerability as she takes a candle-lit bath. Striking imagery abounds, and its effect is elevated even further by Malgorzata Wilczynska's soulful singing accompaniment. Deaths are represented by felled trees, entire castles are ablaze and messages travel on petrol in this carbon-conscious show in which you can still spot an odd spectator with a cigarette in hand. However its exhilarating theatricality, enhanced by Krysztof Nowikow's absorbing score, is definitely worth any health and safety risk as it may well be another twelve years before you see anything like this ever again. Duska Radosavljevic

Man Across The Way Underbelly Policemen ask questions and they like answers, preferably those that make the world make sense in their eyes. The detective at the centre of Oliver Emanuel's play enjoys playing Twenty Questions while he and a junior are on surveillance duty observing a suspect, but we gradually deduce that more than police work is at stake here, and the cop needs to get the particular answers or produce the particular results that will make everything right for him. His needs are connected not only to his work but to his marriage, to the discovery that his wife was not happy with him, to something shocking that happened to her, and to his conviction that these things and the man he's watching are all related in a way he can prove and thus take some comfort from - and the play shows him shaping reality to make it fit his vision. The psychological drama necessitates a degree of mystery and ambiguity, but Emanuel's play is weakened by excessive and unnecessary mystification that can make it difficult to follow in progress or piece together in retrospect. Some small clarifications, such as of the play's timeline, would not have hurt the mystery. A cast led by Grae Cleugh in the central role make every moment real and convincing while being less successful in tying the pieces together.  Gerald Berkowitz

Carey Marx  Underbelly Carey Marx advertises his show as differing from most other stand-up comics in being built around actual jokes, but in fact he offers the same sort of observational humour as everyone else, on many of the same topics. Sex, his girlfriend, religion, taxes and the weather generate much of his material, and the only noticeable difference is a slightly greater percentage of one-liners rather than long set-ups for his jokes. Inevitably the show is uneven, and material you have the vague sense you've heard before alternates with new thoughts like reading a detective novel backwards to see what he did, or a zoo for naughty animals. He does have some hang-ups and hobbyhorses of his own, and Oxo cubes, shower curtains and midgets recur as leitmotifs, likely to pop up in the middle of a sequence about something else.  Marx presents himself as friendly and unthreatening, and keeps a teddy bear onstage to invoke any time a joke may have gone too far. ('I've got a funny story about rape - No, you really had to be there'). But ultimately you are not likely to remember anything about him that makes him stand out from the crowd.   Gerald Berkowitz

Meli Melo II Assembly Universal Arts Spanning the width and breadth of the world of dance and the dances of the world, this handsome quartet brings you a showcase with a difference. Though technically supremely accomplished in a variety of styles, they have an absolutely exquisite sense of humour too. They will make comedy out of anything - from ferociously balletic strife for the limelight to breathy and prancing Olympic gymnasts, to getting tangled up in one's costume. Talking of which, their stage attire is so jaw-droppingly gorgeous that it will have you secretly coveting their frocks and accessories from start to finish, whatever your gender. And they also make a bit of a display of their amazingly slick costume changing routines. Transported from a steamy ballroom into Esther Williams's world of bathing beauties and further still into the Little Mermaid's den within seconds, stage magic abounds in this irresistably camp and hilarious spectacle, but you should primarily see it because it is just the most entertaining piece of popular dance around. And you can safely take your extended family with you. Duska Radosavljevic

A Midsummer Night's Tree 2007 Dean Gardens Good things about ecological theatre include being able to make a joke about the bush in America and leave the stage on account of a 'call from nature'. Not so good things include being exposed to the unpredictability of Scottish weather, uncomfortable seating and mosquitoes. On the whole, there are many more good things than bad about this particular circus show with a difference. The singing trapeze artist Jenny Adler sets the bar dazzlingly high, but her colleagues the b-boying athletes quickly rise to the challenge. And that's only for starters - I haven't even mentioned the time-travelling clown, the live music or the amazing aerialist. Not only does this show feature a multi-talented cast of performers but it really makes an imaginative use of its natural scenery. A hoop and red silk hang off the branches of a sturdy tree while any appearance of fire torches seems even more spectacular in the open air. Most interestingly, though, the audience is genuinely more diverse than anywhere else on the Fringe - Shakespearean stalwarts, excited schoolkids, new age travellers and outdoors enthusiasts all come together here in perfect harmony and with overwhelming approval for what happens on the stage. Duska Radosavljevic

Mile End   Pleasance Dome It is an unfortunate fact of urban life that at infrequent intervals a mentally disturbed person is driven by his demons to push someone else off an underground platform.  The young company called Analogue has taken that as the starting point for a theatre piece ruminating on themes of madness, foreboding, fate and theatre itself. On its surface the story is simple, as we alternate between a troubled young man gradually losing control of his fears and obsessions and a yuppie couple bothered by premonitions of doom, until their paths cross tragically. But the company envelop this tale in layers of theatrical imagination that give it a mystical quality and air of inevitability. Utilising moving walls that can by shaped in surprisingly different ways and 'Chinese stagehands' - figures in black who are treated as invisible - the production moves with remarkable fluidity from scene to scene and from reality to nightmare and back. When the troubled man fears someone living below him and tears up the floor to spy on him, the plane of reality shifts 90 degrees and an actor sitting on a chair attached to the wall is seen head-on as if from above. When the man's reality begins to splinter, the figures in black appear in his clothes. When the man doomed to be the victim has premonitions, the invisible figures make them come alive. This is not one of those cases when directorial cleverness calls attention to itself and away from the play; everything in the production concept serves the tone and mood of the text, raising a tawdry and unpleasant story to mythic stature. Credit to playwrights Dan Rebellato, Lewis Hetherington and Emma Jowett and the whole company who contributed to the concept, and to directors Hannah Berker and Liam Jarvis.   Gerald Berkowitz

Miracle in Rwanda Gilded Balloon After the last survivors of the Armenian and Jewish genocides have gone, who will continue to remind us of man's inhumanity? The answer is the Tutsis of Rwanda, who suffered as the civilized world yet again stood by and did nothing. There has been something of a wave of related shows over the past few years but this true story, based on the experiences of Immaculee Ilibagiza, provides a fresh take. As Immaculee, Leslie Lewis Sword jumps straight into the genocide. The Rwandan president is killed and all Hutus are instantly urged to massacre all Tutsis as scapegoats. Immaculee is swiftly hidden in a secret toilet of the local Hutu pastor. Squashed up in there along with five others, her terror is palpable as machete-wielding death squads make regular searches of the house for Tutsi 'cockroaches'. The pastor grows irritable over feeding his charges as food supplies grow sporadic, while their hunger grows proportionately. Then, after two months, new refugees appear, raising the total in the toilet to eight women. The surprise is that Immaculee's reaction to the slaughter of her people is not one of ethnicity but religious - she gets to grips with the horror through Jesus's suffering and forgiveness. In a way that helps us too, since your average Edinburgh festival audience probably holds more Catholics than Rwandans. Lewis Sword makes you feel the pressure of her confinement, although the sweltering heat of the claustrophobic Wee Room helps here too. Engaging and even funny, she never drops the pace and her gentle delivery avoids high drama and so gets the best out of script and story, although her accent needs to be improved. Like Anne Frank's Diary, this could be the story of any one of us, and it is to the credit of both Immaculee and Lewis Sword that this is conveyed without the faintest hint of sentimentality or attempt to wrench guilt from the audience. Nick Awde

Shazia Mirza Pleasance Dome Shazia Mirza's comedy falls solidly within the genre of 'What It's Like To Be A [insert ethnic group] In Britain Today'. In her case, it's second-generation Pakistani, and the bulk of her material falls into two areas, the prejudices and misconceptions of non-Pakistanis and comical behaviour within the community. In the first group are people who can't pronounce her name or try so hard to be PC that their racism explodes; in the second are arranged marriages, honour killings and the sexism of Asian men. In short, there is very little in her act that you couldn't guess in advance would be there, and when she does step outside that area she proves to have little new to say about Americans (They're fat and stupid and have lots of plastic surgery) or downmarket British (They shop at Matalan and Primark, isn't that funny?). An extended bit about a man who tried to talk her out of doing comedy falls flat because she forgot to mention at the start that he was Asian and the whole story depends on that; another sequence on how the British Council sent her to India and then censored her show there turns out not to have any jokes in it. Mirza ends her short set with a video showing her conforming to all stereotypes about Asian women in Britain, relying on the ironic intention to speak for itself.  Gerald Berkowitz

Nick Mohammed - 4uarters Pleasance Dome This interleaved quartet of social slices of modern life is yet more proof that Nick Mohammed is one of our great comic talents. Things kicks off with an estate agent taking a prospective couple around a flat. Mohammed is never one to take the obvious route, and it turns out that it's not the flat that is awful, it's the neighbourhood. Articulate praise for the interior is interspersed with awkward orders barked out about not standing too long at the window or desperate directions on the safest place to park the car (a bus ride away). Next up is a nature documentary presenter filming in the jungle. An affable expert a la David Attenborough on camera, he spouts all the earnest gobbledygook of the trade. When the take ends, he transforms instantly into a crabby Alan Partridge, whinging and bitching about everything and everybody. Again the juxtaposition brings out the comedy and creates the reality of the character's world, and you feel for his put-upon unseen crew. Excruciatingly familiar is the loans manager, riveting in the way a car crash is. As the husband and wife would-be customers, Colin Hoult and Anna Crilly match Mohammed's manic realism with restrained embarrassment and increasing desperation as the manager persistently questions their motives in applying for a £10,000 loan. Finally there's the anger management expert,' a slow burner that eases us into audience interaction, familiarising us with the course's actual framework before taking us to the next level of actual role play. Subtle but just as funny. This is observation at its finest, a left-field take on everyday folk who are almost nightmarish in their ordinariness that makes you squirm in your seat as you laugh. Nick Awde

Mouse Underbelly Armed only with the shape of a Vauxhall Astra and the confines of a small garage taped out in white on the stage plus his geeky glasses, Paul Trussell has all that he needs to make this solo show into a deliciously comic nightmare. Procter has a problem. Wayne is possibly dying of the exhaust fumes in the garage and Procter is wondering whether it's such a bad idea to just leave him there and return to the office. Through a series of flashbacks he takes us back to the hurts and slights of a lifetime that reveal how they've both ended up there. We learn that it's Wayne who runs the stationery department at their firm and gets to chat up the secretary who shy Procter has always had a crush on. But, being the IT guy, at the touch of a mouse Procter remotely keeps tabs on Wayne's advances, and what he sees he doesn't like. It's the little quirks in Paul Trussell's taut script that jolt things from the expected cliches of this genre of play into something far deeper, while as Procter, he is equally compelling. Aided by Lucy Kerbel's masterful and generous direction, he steadily notches up the tension while getting the darkest of laughs too. It's fascinating to observe how he uses a underlying physicality to mainline the audience into his character's mind and motives with every tic and gesture - it's an invitation you can't refuse. Like the bastard son of Tom Courtenay and John Cleese, Trussell creates an unnerving, riveting portrait of the mouse that roared. Nick Awde

Mutton Gilded Balloon Take a Godber-style play about female middle-age crisis, set in a dilapidated pub. Mix in three stock characters -Red is the clever one and a victim of domestic abuse, Shelagh has a weight problem and Nuala is an oversexed masseuse. Add to that their shared back story of a 1980s girl band with a number 17 in the charts. Throw in a sexy barman and a mysterious stranger in a wheelchair. Stew for about an hour on slow heat. There will be all too deliberate bubbles of wit and venom in this particular cauldron and it will all boil over in the end. Author Kiki Kendrick - who also appears as Red in the play - may well be an inspired cook who serves up her offering with great pride and unconcealed gusto. However, in the world of theatre cuisine less is always more and plausibility, restraint and delayed gratification are far better at satisfying audience appetites. What's more, always keep the individual ingredients well concealed - and for God's sake - careful with cheese! Duska Radosavljevic

Next Best Thing C Venue John Godber, who began as a drama teacher before becoming director of Hull Truck Theatre and one of Britain's most produced playwrights, has written this play for and about the young people of Hull, and a company from Kingswood College of Arts does it full justice. In a play-within-a-play structure, the young performers play members of a theatre therapy group facing their demons by acting out fictional versions of them, with the one adult member of the cast playing their teacher.  The subject is parental pressure to excel and escape from their dead-end world, and the acted-out tale of a teen driven by his father to be a boxer, with tragic results, inspires the others to recognise the ways their parents' best hopes for them - to be a singer, or musician, or athlete - created pressures that did them more harm than good. While the moral of the piece may be dubious - should parents not want their children to have better lives than theirs? - the young actors overcome whatever technical limitations they may have through the unquestioned reality they bring to the work, and they do prove themselves adept at the mix of Brechtian presentation and stylized, choreographed movement that is one of Godber's signatures. Gerald Berkowitz

Night Time Traverse Selma Dimitrijevic's play tells a mundane if powerful story in a mode that has the distancing and disorienting effect of a dream, but it ultimately works so hard to create and sustain its ambiguities that it risks lapsing into incoherence.  On the surface, the story is simple - a battered wife runs away and is helped and comforted by two different men. Returning home, she almost comes under the spell of her husband again, but resists and makes her escape final. But each of the men she encounters - a caring neighbour and a stranger met at a train station - is emotionally wounded in his own way, making it as necessary for her to escape them as it was to leave home, while some ambiguities of chronology and looping fugal repetitions in the text leave open the possibility that everything we've seen may be fantasy, the projection of a paranoid mind, or a theatrical metaphor for an internal journey. Is this a play about the difficulty of escaping from evil, or about a mentally ill woman's distorted vision, or about the physical projections of the thoughts that race through her mind in the seconds before leaving her husband, or the playwright's metaphor for the ways all men mentally imprison and leech on women? In more skilled hands, such ambiguities could resonate evocatively and enrich the play, but in this case they just obfuscate and frustrate.  Gerald Berkowitz

A Nocturnal Suite C Soco If you're after testosterone-fuelled stand-up or gritty abusive drama, read no further. But the rest of you are in for a treat. Subtitled 'The Fantasy of Two Women in a Surreal World',  this complex piece is as achingly beautiful as it is deliciously dippy,. Created and performed by Sarah Lasry and Maria Emilia Franchignoni, the female theme is set with the opening film clip of a man clambering over a giant naked female body only to get lost in her pubic region. Clearly he's very, very confused. Meanwhile the silent movie style, all grainy black and white, washes over you along with the sparse Satie piano soundtrack. The mood is now set: edgy yet soothingly sophisticated. Cut straight to a sequence of scenes spread across two screens - ballerinas dressing, a video diary on self defence that prods the audience with its slogans, subtitled feature film scenes. Cue two women, in red and silver platforms to die for, who mirror the screen action live onstage before slowly slipping out of synch with the film dialogue, splicing the languages to create a rippling Doppler effect. We're entering the female artistic universe, where Sarah Lasry and Maria Emilia Franchignoni's compelling creation merges images of what women aspire to and what inspires them with images and sound collages and unexpected movement and dramatic vignettes. Almodovar, The Maids, Man Ray, Philip Glass, Fellini, Bjork, Les Fleurs du Mal, The House of Bernada Alba, Tharp and tango - if any or all of these turn you on, you'll get this. And best not to analyse, instead sit back and revel in what is one of the most arresting pieces on the fringe. Nick Awde

The Nothinglefttolose Rocket @ Demarco Roxy Art House   A vagrant stumbles onstage pushing a rusty shopping trolley filled with packs of beer bottles. He stops outside a run-down building and pushes at the door. It does not yield. He gives it another push and the whole building comes tumbling down. Impressive, but I can give that scene away because, while other shows would leave it till last, The Nothinglefttolose bafflingly hits this particular climax within the first five minutes, leaving you wondering where Theatre du Risorius can go to next. Well, to a soundtrack of industrial techno and grungy bass, the vagrant discovers another man buried under the rubble. Suspicious, the other provokes a fight, all good cartoonish fun as they chuck the sixpacks in slow motion at each other. That out of their system, they can now begin to trust each other - they have much in common since they are both homeless and dispossessed, two damaged people in search of companionship. A bag lady appears in projection on a closet - it's the gran of one of the guys, who push the trolley into the back of the closet and promptly appear in the projected images. Some neat interleaving of live and filmed action ensues, as they wrap their heads around each other and even swap them. The duo end up on a concert hall stage where they perform a melange of every clown and physical trick in the book before ending on a sub-AC/DC-style rocker for vocalist and guitarist. This sort of thing is perhaps more suited to a larger international festival space and much more physical than pure theatre. Not helping are sound levels that are muddy to the point of incomprehension as is the diction of the performers. Overall oddly static despite the commendable energy that Jean-Paul Vigier and Thierry Dupre give to their roles. Nick Awde

Not In My Name! The Trial of Niccolo Machiavelli Green Room That what is commonly thought of as Machiavellian and what Machiavelli actually wrote are not the same thing is the core of William McEvoy's solo performance piece. But that central idea is all but lost in a script that is cluttered with other material and other agendas. In preparation for defending his name, McEvoy's Machiavelli offers a resume of his life, which actually takes up most of the hour. His small place in the complex politics of fifteenth-century Florence is really relevant only because it explains why he wrote The Prince (to score points with Lorenzo di Medici, who ironically never read it), but McEvoy goes into far more extraneous biographical detail than is needed. So when he gets to his main thesis, which is that he wasn't advocating amoral and manipulative politics but merely reporting on what had worked for successful rulers in the past, the brief explanation goes by almost unnoticed. In the last ten minutes of the play Machiavelli, having fully grasped contemporary world affairs, goes into an extended and explicit attack against the United States for all its moral and political evils. While many in the audience may share McEvoy's opinion, it has startlingly little to do with what has come before. Gerald Berkowitz

Odd and Abandoned Pleasance Dome This modest little oddity does not aim particularly high and yet does not quite achieve its goal. The premise has the three women played by Ceri Ashcroft, Lucy McCall and Sarah-Jane Wingrove working almost robotically at the odd job of cataloguing odd shoes, including those of the audience, until the discovery of one particular shoe gets them summoned on an epic journey to Head Office, where they encounter a twist on the Cinderella story, as the big boss keeps the shoe and discards the girl, after which things just fade out toward an ending. Whimsy is a difficult tone to establish and sustain and, while some moments in this half-mime show are funny, others are opaque, and the three creator-performers are a little too inclined to rely on cuteness to carry them over the rough spots. There is clearly some imagination on display here, and perhaps the basis for a punchy five-minute sketch, but without a fuller development of the concept or the discipline a director might have brought to its presentation, there is not enough of a show to sustain even the brief running time. Gerald Berkowitz

On Danse Edinburgh Playhouse The best way I could sum up this show would be as a birdlike break-dancing ballet (with bits of buffoonery thrown in). Set to the dance sections from Rameau's 1760 opera Les Paladins, which was inspired by a La Fontaine fable, this is an epitome of the late baroque extravagance, bravely translated into modern day terms. A series of extremely skilful or purely celebratory solos are interlaced with colourful chorus pieces and brief dancing dialogues, all in front of giant projections of naked people in the clouds and cut outs of wild animals ambling around Versailles. The deliberate fusion of a wide variety of dancing styles as well as dancers from around the world is clearly intended to celebrate diversity, not necessarily only in political terms, but in terms of the fact that it is so much more delightful, and potentially more in keeping with Rameau, to watch an arabesque by a size 16 African dancer than by a size 0 ballerina in a tutu. Equally the harmonising effect of the rap beat and the harpsichord is refreshingly revealing. Having taken out all the narrative elements of the opera, Compagnie Montalvo-Hervieu attempt to talk us through their dancing raison d'etre, which ranges from a Cartesian paraphrase of dancing as being to some more abstract or quirky personal attitudes. After about an hour and a half of this rather exorbitant but mainly inconsequential display, one of the earlier proffered statements rings particularly true: 'Dancing can be exhausting too'. Duska Radosavljevic

Opera Burlesque Gilded Balloon (Reviewed at a previous Festival) In the 19th Century, we are told, opera singers would moonlight in music hall, singing straight and parody versions of their signature arias. This hour of song from three Australian divas - Ali McGregor, Dimity Shepherd and Antoinette Halloran - has little beyond the title in common with that tradition. Though we do hear shortened versions of the best known arias from Madame Butterfly and Carmen, the bulk of the hour is just a mix of old pop standards and novelty numbers, sung by the trio in rotation and occasionally together, and accompanied by either an onstage accordianist or a backing track. Straight numbers include chestnuts Summertime and La Vie En Rose, and the less over-familiar Hubble-Golden Poor Butterfly. Among the comic interludes are Tom Lehrer's I Hold Your Hand In Mine and Dillie Keane's So Long As You're German. A device that's overused, since it really only works the first time, is the mock-operatic stylising of a hard rock song - Bon Jovi's Living On A Prayer, Radiohead's I'm a Creep, AC/DC's TNT. Stripped of its tenuous Victorian connection, this mix of pleasant singing and broad comic mugging would not be out of place as cruise ship entertainment. Gerald Berkowitz

Orgasm - The Musical Royal Scots Club Orgasm is the appropriately named big opener as the cast gather around Annie and Rod's bed. 'It would be just nice if you could last a little bit more!' she chides as he fails to make her earth move. Things aren't premature as such, it's more a case of the foreplay's the thing. They bicker and Rod storms out. Left alone in her frustration Annie (a powerful voiced Alice Keedwell) launches into Another Night in Bed, a plaintive plea for a girl's love for her hairbrush. Meanwhile Rod (Alexander James) is down the pub getting advice from his mate Dave (Ian Curran) in the jaunty Love Is Not Enough. And so begins the couple's quest in search of sexual truth. With a graphically choreographed Think of Other Things, Dave's other half Helga (Kate Eason) offers a list of her favourite positions, mostly involving leather. Glam-tran Miss Venus de Mont (Brian Elrick), a sexual agony aunt with her own TV show, delivers a state of the nation speech on orgasms complete with statistics. After experimenting with swingers and sex shop toys - the shop assistants offer up the duet Toys, dildos in hand - Rod and Annie decide to seek Venus's help. What transpires is an entertaining journey of sexual revelation kicked off by Venus's dominatrix Take It Like a Man and members of the audience invited up for an X-rated version of Mr & Mrs. Lizzie Austin and Alexander McKenzie's bouncy melodies complement lyrics containing wicked couplets that get deserved claps throughout. In fact there are laughs of recognition from the whole audience, and ultimately this musical succeeds because it's about the sexes and not just sex. The ensemble works hard and buzzes with energy although they are uneven performance-wise and vocally. Additionally, the keyboard arrangements sound as if they're played on a kid's mini Casio, and too many set pieces hinder the plot. Still, none of that stops things from coming to a thunderous climax. Nick Awde

Orpheus Aurora Nova I can hardly look back on this piece to tell you what happens it in without breaking the spell. Suffice it to say that Clipa Theatre from Israel comes close to truly redefining and reinventing the notion of a music theatre experience, conjuring up fantastic worlds and letting them morph before your eyes into the most unexpected images of horror and beauty. With their made up instruments - from recycled mannequin legs and pieces of metal and wire - their puppets created from miced up wooden chests and their spectacular costume changes, Tyuplanov and Herman seem to tap straight into that archetypal place where fairytales come from, and manage to reignite childlike wonder in their audience. It is when viewed from this special place that their incidental motif of political violence seems even more grotesque by highlighting the ruthlessness of childplay and the childishness of war. However, it is music that is the key element of this piece, synaesthetically shaping its narrative progression and allowing for free-association. As we already know, despite charming the god of the underworld, Orpheus loses Eurydice and the door of Hades closes forever, but the gift of poetry remains with us. Duska Radosavljevic

Painkillers Underbelly Nadia is a journalist. Angela is a convicted killer. Nadia is writing a book about female murderers. Angela may be flattered enough to talk to Nadia about her crimes. Or then again, maybe not. In the windowless visiting room of the prison, Nadia searches for Angela's motives in her abusive background. But her probing questions seem more like those of a therapist than a researcher. Angela resists her memories being jogged in this way, but soon she starts to have involuntary flashbacks that bring long buried horrors to the present. Onto the clinical concrete walls of the room are projected images from her past, while her thoughts are given voice via ghostly recordings. She tries to conceal these episodes but Nadia is too much of an old hand to miss Angela's mental storms. As they debate Angela's level of culpability, the atmosphere veers from highly charged confrontations to relaxed, almost girl-like chattiness. As Angela, Laura Ford brings out the uneasy mix of confidence and insecurity of someone who is determined to dull her emotions and memories, while Amanda Beetham-Wallace is convincing and unexpectedly touching as the writer balancing objectivity with empathy. Plotwise Paul Buie's script is slight but it provides for some great head to head exchanges between the protagonists that constantly add to character depth. Angharad Jones directs with a precision that brings out the best in script and performers alike. Nick Awde

Phaedre C at Craigmillar Castle When it comes to site-specific theatre, one could hardly wish for a more artistically accommodating site than a crumbling castle on a windswept hill at sunset, two and a half kilometres out of Edinburgh. Director Cressida Brown and her producers have made a series of excellent decisions and practical arrangements to ensure a pleasant and memorable experience for their audience, including a bus ride there and back and cloaks made of hemp leftovers to keep warm. The choice of play too - being by Racine - has all the archetypal appeal of the Greeks, epic humanness of Shakespeare and enough Gallic melodrama to fill a dozen castles. Despite uneven quality of individual performances, and some missed opportunities in terms of psychological layering and pacing of the key scenes, the Escher-style stone maze of staircases, windows and forecourts is atmospherically enhanced by the use of candles, bones and polyphonic chanting, the latter of which also adds to a growing anticipation and dramatic tension of the piece. Duska Radosavljevic

The Phone Book Live! Green Room (Reviewed at a previous Festival) The theatrical cliché that great actors would be interesting just reading the phone book is put to the test in this 15 minute show, in which each night a different celebrity is invited to do just that. In practice, the event is not quite as exciting as it sounds, in part because, with a relative paucity of great actors in Edinburgh, the cast list is made up largely of those stand-up comics or performers hungry for the opportunity to use this appearance to plug their own shows. A format that bookends the reading with an introductory interview and a charity auction of the autographed phone book limits the actual reading to four or five minutes. By all reports, the majority of readers opted for the easy gags of hunting out sexual references in the names they read. One created a small drama of rising frustration out of an endless list of Smiths. I watched comedian Ewen MacIntosh subvert the concept by spending four minutes reading silently to himself, with only the occasional grunt or chuckle indicating his progress, and then manage to raise £6 for his autograph. In all, the experiment must be declared inconclusive, awaiting more extended testing with more appropriate subjects. Gerald Berkowitz

Pit   Traverse Megan Barker's play for Glasgow's Arches Theatre filters a simple story through a production concept that adds little to it and threatens to overpower what dramatic strength it may have. Three actresses - Yvonne Caddell, Ray Farr and Patricia Kavanagh - play the same character (and occasionally others in her story), a poor and uneducated woman of the American South.  We watch her/them preparing a meal under what are evidently very strict rules of hygiene and methodology, and in the process remembering what led her to this. The story is ordinary and banal - a string of misfortunes and encounters with social services that resulted in one child being taken from her, not to be seen again until he was an adult. His return led, after a few bizarre intermediate steps, to tragedy and the reason for this meal. There might be a touching story of dead-end lives and wrong choices in there, but it probably would have been told better as conventional drama or as a single monologue. The three actresses, who speak for the character alternately or in unison, inevitably bring slightly different personalities to her, one more motherly, one giving a greater sense of her lack of education, one slightly more stroppy. But this is inconsistent enough that you can't be sure that they're meant to be different facets of her character, and if they are, why that is being underlined. Meanwhile, the connection between the meal and the story being told is a tenuous one limited to a plot point and not to the general tone. So the whole frame concept seems imposed on the play rather than being integral to it, and you can't help feeling that it keeps getting in the way.    Gerald Berkowitz

Play On Words    C Soco Tom Crawshaw is a real playwright. Play On Words may not be wholly successful as a play, but its failings are not those of talent, but of control over the talent, as Crawshaw's imagination takes the play into too many stylistic and thematic directions at once, the centre ultimately not holding. On one level, and intermittently during its length, it is the linguistic jape the title suggests, with puns and wordplay running through the dialogue. On another, it is metatheatre, a play about a play, with a lighting technician who announces each lighting cue with the enthusiasm of a radio DJ, and an opening scene in which an actor tries frantically to keep up with the barked orders of his director. But none of this really has anything to do with the plot, which is about two men trying to recreate the past to find out what happened to the woman one of them loved, hampered by the fact that memory is faulty and a search can sometimes be shaped by what one hopes to find. That ultimately quite serious psychological drama sits uneasily with the verbal wit and theatrical games. Every aspect of the play is inventive and potentially effective, but they just don't all belong in the same play, and Play On Words is worth seeing mainly as a promise of more successful things to come from this writer.  Gerald Berkowitz

Playing Burton Assembly Josh Richards has been doing his Richard Burton show, in various forms, for over two decades, and has won awards for it. But it may be time to bring the current version, written by Mark Jenkins, in for an overhaul, as the text tells us too little about Burton to be satisfying and Richards seems to be just going through the motions. Richards has got the voice and the accent down pat, but he makes no effort whatever to look, act or carry himself like Burton, so you lose little if you close your eyes during the show. And if you come in knowing that Richard Burton was Welsh, married to Elizabeth Taylor and a heavy drinker, you won't leave knowing a whole lot more. Richards tells us a bit about Burton's boyhood, and his training under teacher Philip Burton (whose name he took), but if your mind wanders for just a few seconds, you'll miss his breakthrough years at the Royal Shakespeare Company and his entire pre-Cleopatra film career. He talks about Elizabeth a lot, but says little, and all his Broadway Hamlet means to him is that he made a million dollars from it. The only hints of bitterness or self-awareness come in running quotations from King Lear, which he never played, and Dr. Faustus, which he did, and which the script suggests is the story of his life - trading his soul for success. In the course of the hour Richards drinks from a bottle of what is supposedly vodka until he falls down and trails off, mumbling unintelligibly. But all of that, from the obsession with Taylor through the Faust symbolism to the drinking, is Burton cliche, and one leaves frustrated at not having been given any more sense of the man or the actor. Gerald Berkowitz

Poppea Royal Lyceum Theatre Sex and politics. It's a winning combination, as Claudio Monteverdi knew full well when he wrote L'incoronazione di Poppea in 1643 with librettist Giovanni Busenello. His last opera, this is the one (take a deep breath) set in first century Rome where the emperor Nero gets it on with Poppea to the chagrin (that's putting it mildly) of his empress Ottavia and much to the disapproval of literary statesman Seneca and the jealousy of Poppea's lover/husband Ottone who is told by Ottavia to kill Poppea disguised as his new lover Drusilla while Seneca tops himself in the bath. Unsurprisingly tragedy ensues but it's sufficiently gory and passionate to keep everyone leaving happy as the supernatural Amor presides over it all with beaming satisfaction. Barrie Kosky's production strips down the action and segues a German translation (with English surtitles) with Cole Porter songs, blending baroque and Broadway. It's a slow starter and the prologue needs to be cut for lack of interest but the humour kicks in the moment plot and music start to gel. Slumped like Marat in his bath, the mute Seneca's death becomes a fatal homoerotic encounter, Ottone sings of 'your red lips' as Poppea licks blood off his body, the first ensemble number involves a plumed girl chorus conjured from nowhere, while Porter's Every Time We Say Goodbye could only have been written for the strangulation scene. It's as if Pasolini was reincarnated as Fassbinder during the Weimar republic - you sort of get the idea. And the cast successfully conveys director/arranger Kosky's vision, with Ruth Brauer-Kvam shining as vamp with a heart Drusilla while Beatrice Frey underlays her scheming Ottavia with unsettling humour. Technically it's not perfect - the performers for all their energy and skill have unequal voices for the ranges they are required to sing, and Michael Zerz's set has an insulting disregard for sightlines. Ultimately this proves to be a revue structurally and yet you leave knowing you've had experience far deeper. Nick Awde

Popsicle Departure 1989   Assembly at St. George's I have no idea what the title means, but Madi Distefano's solo piece is an interlocking pair of monologues by two participants in the grunge rock scene in Boston (Was there a grunge rock scene in Boston? Somehow, setting some of the action in Harvard Square feels a bit odd.)  We start with stoner/doper/groupie Dido waking up and trying to get straight enough for her temp job, where she accomplishes little more than sleeping under her desk, having sex with a co-worker on top of his, and stealing his wallet before escaping to hunt for her drug dealer.  Then we double back to her musician boyfriend Jeremy, waking up in another girl's bed and trying to figure out how to handle Dido's inevitable anger. And so, with Distefano switching back and forth between the two voices, we follow them through the day. Dido has more sex and more drugs, while Jeremy prepares himself for a gig that night. Their paths eventually cross at the gig, and Distefano offers two alternate versions of how the night ends. The power of the piece lies in the writing, as Distefano creates two outrageous characters while also letting us see they are little more than children playing at being naughty. She brings a lot of energy to her performance, but the two actually sound and carry themselves enough alike that she may be a couple of minutes into a scene before you realise which character is speaking.   Gerald Berkowitz

Lucy Porter   Pleasance Lucy Porter has always relied more on her infectious energy and irresistible cuteness to carry her shows than on anything particularly unique in her material. And so her current show, built around the theme of love and its pitfalls, may have its share of laughs, but is likely also to inspire a sense of deja vu. Is there, after all, any female comic out there who has not joked about her difficulty finding a boyfriend, or the mad things she has done when she had one? And so Porter talks about being attracted to the wrong kind of guy, about the perils of internet dating, about embarrassing dates, about the fine line between infatuation and stalking. She does so in such a happy, bouncy way that you may very well enjoy her company enough not to be bothered by the familiarity of her material - and, yes, some of the specifics are fresh or idiosyncratic enough to generate legitimate laughs. But if you're looking for somebody different from the pack, you won't find that here. Gerald Berkowitz

Potted Potter - The Unauthorized Harry Potter Experience Pleasance It's an absolute gift of a show: an hour's whizz through the first six of JK Rowling's Harry Potter books plus tantalizing preview snippets of the latest, seventh and final release. And judging by the delighted reaction of the packed house, Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner are doing their subject justice, if ever so slightly irreverently. Dan (the clever dumb one) and Jeff (the dumb clever one) had planned a dazzling array of stars to come on and play all the characters for us. The problem is that Dan has spent all the money on creating the Dragon (Book 4). Jeff is incensed but decides to carry on with the show regardless. What follows is deliciously loopy as the hapless duo attempt to recreate key characters and scenes from Hogwarts using an endless supply of ordinary household props and assorted members of the audience. Is Dumbledore's prophecy (Book 5) really a scene from Little Britain? Are the Dementors (Book 3) and Snape (Book 6) good or evil? Will a basilisk fang kill Riddle's Diary (Book 2)? Will Ron stop talking like a bad rapper (Book 1) innit? Will Dan ever get his game of quidditch? How many puns can they get out of the word muggles? And will Jeff ever get to see the Dragon? The audience (mainly very grown-up kids over 20 it seems!) know the books back to front, and Dan and Jeff more than meet the challenge of finding an original take on the Potter oeuvre. Funny and gloriously unpredictable, this is one of those rare great nights out for all the family. Nick Awde

Owen Powell - The Two Closest Starbucks in Britain Pleasance A small but flourishing subgroup of stand-up comics are those who spend part of the year doing something strange and obsessive, and the rest telling about it in their act. After noticing two Starbucks coffee shops within a few blocks of each other, Owen Powell set out to discover the pair that were the closest together, travelling around the country to pace out the distances. Armed with the obligatory PowerPoint presentation, he offers the results of his studies, along with other assorted facts about coffee, multinationals in general, and Starbucks in particular. And the result is not particularly funny. Unlike more successful practitioners of the genre, like Dave Gorman and Tim Fitzhigham, Powell is not a natural storyteller, evidently unable to find the grains of the absurd in his adventure or to present them in an inventive and comical way. So whatever entertainment power his report contains lies in the material itself. As he takes us from one pair of shops to another, arranging them so the distances keep shrinking, there is a sense of progress toward a goal and the audience may get sufficiently caught up in the thrill of the hunt to exit feeling that they've had a good time even though very little that was actually funny has happened.  Gerald Berkowitz

Private Peaceful Assembly Rooms You'll be seeing quite a few plays about World War I as the centenary of its years of carnage creeps up on us, but Private Peaceful has to be among the best of the crop. Based on a story by best-selling children's author Michael Morpurgo and adapted by Simon Reade, this is the tragic yet gripping tale of a young soldier at the Western Front. As Tommo Peaceful waits for dawn and the firing squad, the condemned private tells us of his short life and the events that have led to his being sentenced to death for cowardice. He introduces us to his home in rural Devon, his family and neighbours and the news of approaching war and joining up to fight. Barely has he arrived at the front than he is sent on a trench raid, whose successful outcome proves that he is made of the right stuff. And yet old rivalries raise their head when he falls foul of an NCO from back home and when the day comes to go over the top for the big one it explodes in murderous no-man's land. Bizarrely, this doesn't feel like a one-man show thanks to Alexander Campbell's remarkably sustained performance. His understated portrayal of Tommo earns our complete sympathy as he goes to his doom in Flanders Fields and we really do start to see the world change around him through his eyes. In fact everyone in this production has done their homework on what is still a controversial part of our history, and director Reade ensures that every detail convinces from the recreation of the raid to the way Tommo puts on his puttees. Only the ending perhaps takes one step too far from reality since, paradoxically, death would be a just sentence but one that would also be commuted under the complex circumstances of Tommo's story. Nick Awde

The Prodigal Daughter C Venue In Asa Palomera's play a Korean woman who has lived most of her life in America returns to Korea to reconnect with her family and her roots. The process is inevitably awkward, epitomised in her gesture of wearing traditional Korean dress while her mother and sister are more westernised, and in her impatience with the small rituals of everyday Korean life.  It is further complicated by a network of family secrets and guilts that somehow involve an American general with deviant sexual tastes. The truth comes out eventually, about an hour after anyone awake in the audience will have guessed it, deliberately raising more moral questions than it answers. Partly elevating the play above mere domestic melodrama are the unforced hints that this small story is a metaphor for the uneasy mix of salvation and exploitation inherent in even the most benign occupation force. Those small touches aside, dramaturgy, characterisation and acting are rudimentary throughout, rising at their best to the heavily underlined level of soap opera.  It is the subject matter itself, along with the hints of broader themes, that carries the author-directed play, rather than its execution. Gerald Berkowitz

Punch and Judy Redux Pleasance You might be able to piece it together from the performance itself, but it certainly helps to read the programme note that explains that the company Dissentertainment has overlaid the true story of William Kemmler, the first felon to be executed in the electric chair, with traditional Punch and Judy characters played by live actors in masks, with the true story of a rogue elephant executed by electricity somehow brought in as well. Through mime, spoken word and a recorded narration in a child's voice, a prisoner tells us of a day in Coney Island, where he saw a Punch and Judy show, which acted out what we gather was his own crime. We then see a recreation of his execution, which was botched, requiring two charges of electricity. Each individual segment is slow-moving, taking far more time than is necessary to make its plot or thematic point, the elephant story is never clearly connected to the rest, and parts of the Punch and Judy sequence would be opaque were it not for the narration. While the display of mime skills is sometimes impressive, little is gained by filtering Kemmler's story through the puppet show, either in illuminating the killer's psychology nor in making an effective case against the horror of his execution. Gerald Berkowitz

The Queef of Terence Pleasance Dome This three-hander comedy is built on a clever if fragile conceit, that two totally unqualified women could get a TV chat show and proceed to foul up every aspect of the job, from celebrity interview through consumer advice spot to supporting a worthy cause. But the limits of the concept become apparent as what might have made a passable five-minute revue sketch is extended far too long, and indeed it is at five minutes that the first audience walkouts begin. Olivia Poulet and Sarah Solemani are unable to develop any significant variations on the single basic gag, and the piece is stretched to forty-five minutes by extending every individual bit far beyond its comic potential, with the sequence in which the women can't comprehend a guest's simple financial advice proving particularly painful to sit through. There are a few welcome touches of originality or absurdity, such as making the women improbably Restoration comedy buffs, so that they conduct the show in powdered wigs and archaic English, or in having them interview Mrs. Saddam Hussein the way they might Posh Beckham, but they either go nowhere or are driven into the ground. The only person to escape the event with dignity intact is Christopher Adlington, who plays all the interviewees, male and female, with some comic flair. Gerald Berkowitz

Queen Bess C Soco Brought together by seven exceptionally talented people, this is a slick and watchable show whose student drama origins are only betrayed by its immature, TV-influenced and outrageous plot. Theatre of absurd meets satirical sitcom in this particular show, but fails to yield any thematic or functional justification for its obscure choice of style. Concerning a life insurance company whose employees are made to look like Elizabeth II as they collect debts from unpaying customers and a struggling young couple who are waiting for their grandma's death, the story has us all on the brink of a mysterious apocalypse. A competent and fast-paced delivery raises this show far above the rest and makes you wonder what these kids will be capable of in a few years time. However, even though Aled Roberts' voice as a writer is intensely original, his current narrative offering ends up making you feel slightly short changed. Duska Radosavljevic

Queen of the Slaughter Assembly at Aurora Nova This performance piece from Brighton-based Prodigal Theatre tells a simple but potentially emotionally rich story through dialogue (in several languages), mime, dance and music. Inspired by a red anthem, an idealistic young man sets off to join the revolution. He finds a small revolutionary cell whose members are already paranoid and suspicious of each other. After some mutual suspicion and uncertainty, he is welcomed as a probationer and is both indoctrinated in theory and practice through study of Sun Tzu's Art of War and drawn more fully into commitment through seduction by a female comrade. But the ultimate test comes when he is ordered to kill a suspected traitor in the group. Although neither the acting style nor the movement vocabulary is particularly original, there are effective moments, such as the high pressure drilling in Sun Tzu and an erotic pas de deux in which the woman's motives and commitment remain ambiguous. But much of the rest is too empty of resonance or meaning and, depending on how you take it, the pacing throughout is either atmospheric or glacially slow. Gerald Berkowitz

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

Rebus McTaggart Pleasance Dome (Reviewed at a previous Festival) In the fairly limited world of character-based stand-up, Richard Thomson's creation of this self-satisfied and totally un-PC police detective (in charge of terrorism and lost property) must rank high. In the context of a supposed lecture to police cadets, Thomson's McTaggart deigns to share his wisdom and expertise while leering lasciviously at every female in the audience and exploiting every opportunity for a quick and crushing ad lib. His audience rapport is instant and strong, as is evidenced when he sets up the idea of a coffee break and then later goes offstage for a costume change and the sound of pouring gets a laugh. Thomson alternates the detective's appearances with other characters, a Greek psychologist with a thing about chickens and a female police artist whose sketches all look the same, but only his sniffer dog, exposing half the front row as harbouring drugs, really works as well as McTaggart. At this performance Thomson gave a particularly impressive demonstration of his quick thinking and comic agility when, for a bit involving an audience member onstage, he happened to pick a very unresponsive patsy and still made the sequence work hilariously. Gerald Berkowitz

Red State C Soco Guy Zimmerman's play is a study in ambiguities and conspiracy theory paranoia that leaves us through much of its length as uncertain of what is real and who is who as its characters are. A young man in drug rehab is invaded and terrorised by a burned-out and near-psychotic soldier from his past. With neither of them having a particularly firm grip on reality, it is rather late in the play before a coherent backstory emerges - in a war zone, the druggie's industrialist father arranged for the soldier and a female reporter to be hit by friendly fire, to justify a retaliatory attack on the enemy that would incidentally help his company, and the soldier thinks the boy has proof of all this. But even that story is subject to a number of questions and corrections, keeping characters and audience uncertain to the very end. The danger is that by that point the audience may not care anymore, though strong performances by John Diehl as the soldier and Andy Hopper as his prey keep the personal and human adventure alive even as its overtones grow murky. Gerald Berkowitz

Lizzie Roper - Peccadillo Circus  Pleasance Dome (Reviewed at a previous Festival) Verbatim Theatre - that is, scripts made up entirely of the actual words of real people, collected perhaps through interviews - has been around for at least forty years, but more recently a new wrinkle has appeared. Instead of simply copying what people say into a script for actors to memorise and deliver, the original recordings are played into earphones the actors wear onstage, so they can recreate the sound of the original speaker, complete with accent, pauses, coughs and the like. (One wonders why the performers couldn't have done this without the earphones- it's called acting - but that's another matter.) Anyway, Lizzie Roper has collected the observations of a cross-section of people on the subject of sex, and repeats their words to us. There's a gay man who describes some of the more outré clubs he frequents, a man analysing the motives of women who meet him online for sex, a 70-year-old woman with little to say about the subject (though at great length), and a few others. Roper is not much of an actress, and you sometimes have to wait a few minutes into a speech until what is said offers some clues as to whether the person is male or female, old or young, gay or straight. There's not a whole lot of laughs, not much insight into the individuals and - with the somewhat repetitive emphasis on the two or three main characters - not much illumination of the subject.Gerald Berkowitz

Rosebud Assembly (Reviewed at a previous Festival) Christian McKay bears an uncanny resemblance to the young Orson Welles, and he can do the voice perfectly, so when this solo show written by Mark Jenkins opens with the unmistakable image of Harry Lime, you know that you can relax and give yourself over to it. And for much of its length the monologue delivers what it promises, not only a potted biography of Welles but a glimpse at his personality and at least the illusion of traveling back in time to the company of the man himself. McKay's Welles is delightful on the subject of his childhood, explaining convincingly that being told repeatedly by his adoring mother that he was a genius and perfect at everything he did, he naturally came to believe it. And, as he explains, assuming one is going to do great things is more than half the job. We're taken through what is for many familiar material - the forming of the Mercury Theatre at age 22, the War of the Worlds broadcast, the making of and reactions to Citizen Kane, the brief golden period and long decline that followed, the indignity of doing TV commercials to finance his later pictures. The one criticism to make of the script is that it somewhat skims over the last 40 years of Welles' life, exactly the period we would like a creative biographer to explain to us. But Jenkins never really tries to explain why the boy genius couldn't sustain his success, and we are left with the moving but still enigmatic image of McKay as a Welles who has blended into one of his favourite characters, the fat, comic and sad Falstaff. Gerald Berkowitz

Scarborough   Assembly Rooms Edinburgh always has a few site-specific productions, but this offering from Northern Firebrand takes the concept in a new direction. A small unused office in the Assembly building has been completely redecorated to duplicate a bedroom in a seedy bed-and-breakfast house, and there is barely space for an audience of two dozen to press themselves against the walls to watch what is going on in the room. What we see are a teenage boy and an older woman on a dirty weekend. She is, of course, a teacher, and her knowledge that what they're doing is wrong is almost palpable in the room, along with her desire and his innocent infatuation. He's naive enough to think they have a future, and is broken when she tries to explain the reality, and then his pain makes her aware of how much deeper she is emotionally involved than she realised. You can say rightly that writer Fiona Evans doesn't really have very much new to tell us, but the intimate setting and the sensitive playing of Holly Atkins and James Baxter, directed by Deborah Bruce so that every tiny nuance and gesture counts, make for an almost embarrassingly real experience.   Gerald Berkowitz

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre Gilded Balloon Some of the best ideas are usually the simplest, a fact clearly demonstrated by Kev F Sutherland's Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre. They are already the stars of You Tube and, judging by the audience on the very rainy night I saw this show, seem to have a devoted fan following. Conceived as a bickering double act, the sock puppet theatre are often relentless but utterly irresistible. Their mixture of spoken and sung material touches on many different topics including most significantly the Fringe itself as well as Shakespeare and TV sitcoms. Combining schoolboy silliness, funny songs, endless play on words and a kind of puppetry slapstick, Sutherland ends up with his own brand of comedy which is also delivered with admirable verbal and manual dexterity. As a whole, the set might feel bitty at times which also lacks an overarching structure and makes the 'cast' work harder, however, Sutherland makes up for this with an excellent audience rapport even despite the physical barrier. Duska Radosavljevic

Shakespeare for Breakfast C Venue It began almost twenty years ago, when a student company doing two other shows found themselves with a free morning slot, and this light-hearted romp, new each year, has become a Fringe staple and an ideal start to the Fringe day. A few detours aside, the general pattern has been to find some comic pretext for throwing characters from several Shakespeare plays together and letting them bounce off each other. This year the supposed cast of 'Carry On Shakespeare', flying to the film's premiere, crash on a desert island, where the survivors take on their characters' identities. While Hamlet spends his time trying to decide whether to decide anything, Macbeth sets out to kill the nearest king, who is Lear. Meanwhile, Juliet's Nurse, unhappy with her small role, auditions for the part of Lear's most loving daughter, while Cleopatra, looking for ass's milk to bathe in, runs afoul of Puck, who puts ass's ears on - well, you get the idea. It's all very silly, and presented in a mix of clever couplets, dreadful puns and vaguely familiar out-of-context quotations, and is all so good-spirited that you just go along for the ride and enjoy yourself. And they give free coffee and croissants. Gerald Berkowitz

Something Blue Underbelly Five clowns serenade the audience and hand out notes scribbled on paper while others tickle the back of your neck with feathers. Jaunty Nina Simone and Cole Porter numbers eventually entice them onto the stage. Cut to a string of women fishing in buckets and feeding off each other's rivalry. The scene changes suddenly to a woman in a red dress at a table laid out for a romantic dinner. Barely has she finished her make-up than the big bad wolf saunters in. The love fest that follows is bizarre, to say the least. A hand puppet then pops up in surprising places over and around a curvaceous body, inventive and slightly naughty. Almost bringing the house down is the choral society of elderly ladies. Their gospel harmonies are sweet and heavenly - it's the lyrics that are down and dirty as, like Acorn Antiques meets Snoop Dogg, you realise they're actually doing foul-mouthed pop songs. Later, a disturbing scene involves Nutella, ketchup and a couple of doughnuts, while in between scenes the set lady potters on dispensing advice to anyone who'll listen - she's a cheeky buxom vamp who's already bored of husband number six and funny in a Faith Brown sort of way. Underneath the absurdist humour there is some very thoughtful stuff going on. More hit than miss, Jammy Voo clearly know their audience and the effect performance has on them. Admittedly a lot of this is (Lecoq) textbook stuff and predictable in theme (yes, there's a sentimental old person on a bench number), but somehow they rise above it all thanks to their innate grasp of comedy. Oh, and a ripping soundtrack. Nick Awde

Sorry, Love! C Venue The Spanish title of this Irish-Spanish company's full-length dance is El Mal Amor or 'Bad Love', which conveys better the piece's difficult theme of domestic violence. As a woman lies on the ground, a female voice begins to narrate and we wonder: is this is the end of the story or the beginning, is this death or birth we're seeing? The scene changes and a baby is in fact born. Meet Isabel. Her mother's tone changes from doting to stern as her daughter transforms from rolling baby to precocious teenager. So far so normal. Isabel comes of age and gets a job in PR. She falls for Ramon, a former boxer who works in a hotel. They slow tango as their attraction grows, she shadows him at the punch bag in an eerily beautiful sequence, and the duet of their first dinner date sees them leaping over chairs and table to a energetically chugging track with congas, soaring strings and a samba bassline. They homehunt and move in together and then the trouble starts. Ramon is sleeping around and brings home his work woes with violent consequences as Isabel becomes his new punchbag. Sorry, Love! is a remarkably ambitious project that is sustained through an enviable partnership of movement, script and music. The majority of movement is classical based and the two protagonists show amazing stamina not only by dancing throughout but also sustaining a convincing depth of emotion through their acting. Underpinned by Stefan Warmuth's evocative soundtrack, Laura Macias moves with fluid grace and versatility, and Gavin De Paor supports her generously although he is visibly limited in his solo pieces. They make good use of Joe O'Byrne's sparse script but need to expand on Ramon's jealousy and the couple's financial strain. Despite the odd moment of overparody, the choreography is rock solid and serves the story, not vice-versa, which makes this equally theatre and dance ' as evidenced by an ending that is as heart-rending as it is shocking. Nick Awde

Special   Assembly Universal Arts John Keates has written a play about S&M sex that is neither prurient nor sensationalist, but is rather a serious attempt to explain why essentially normal people would choose this byway for their sex lives. He presents an attractive and clearly loving couple, played by himself and Anna Brook, who have incorporated games of power and pain into their foreplay, not only for their mutual excitement, but as an expression of their love. She is excited by the ability to expose her darkest desires without fear of alienating him, and he is excited by her excitement and the ability to continually demonstrate his love. And, while all this may not be your idea of fun, the psychology and characterisations make sense, and the play succeeds in convincing us that, for these two, this is a healthy expression and deepener of their love. It should be said that, while the actors keep their clothes on at all times, simply stating 'Now I am naked' at relevant moments, and the S&M is all either left to the blackouts and our imaginations or obviously simulated, there still may be cringe-inducing moments for all but the most hardy or open-minded.  Gerald Berkowitz

Victor Spinetti - A Very Private Diary Revisited Pleasance Best known (as he happily admits) as the mad scientist in the Beatles movie Help, Victor Spinetti has had a more than fifty-year career in stage and film, during which he seems to have met and made friends with everyone. He tells his stories with charm and infectious delight, almost as happy to laugh at himself as at others - though ultimately he can't help preferring the latter occasions, as when his brief experience as a teen-idol-by-proxy, thanks to the Beatle films, let him one-up a fellow actor who had been patronising him. He also enjoys the story of the time old buddies Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor helped him rain on Peter Sellers' parade. On the other hand, he is glad to confide that he only got the Beatle roles because George Harrison's mother fancied him and to recreate the experience of being stoned in Marrakech with John and Yoko. Of course there are other names dropped during the hour, from Sean Connery (They both got their start in South Pacific, and he has a great theory about how Connery became Bond) through Princess Margaret (who rang him up after a performance to ask him to repeat an off-colour joke she wanted to tell her sister). Spinetti has been doing this informal reminiscence show on and off for years, and there is no reason why he shouldn't continue with it forever - anyone who has such great stories and who tells them so well will always be welcome. Gerald Berkowitz

The Spoils C Venue That men and women experience war differently is a truism, but the thrust of this new play by Steven Dykes and Paul Englishby is that our assumptions about those differences are almost certainly wrong. A member of a conquering army interrogates four women who were mere secretaries in various ministries of the losing government. The man is enamoured of a piece of the defeated country's classical music, and hopes this will create a bond with the women. But it is soon apparent that he has sentimentalised the music, which has no special meaning for them, as much as he has the women, the war, and just about everything else he addresses. They, in contrast, are practical, matter-of-fact and generally disdainful of all men whose romantic visions disrupted and destroyed their neat and smoothly-running bureaucracies. Far from representing the softer sex, the women's clear vision and impatience with male sentimentality exposes it for the destructive fantasy it is. Though the script requires Clark Devlin's interrogator to go on too long and too frequently in his romantic analysis of the music, the short sharp shocks of his encounters with Laura Churchill, Rebecca Pollock, Polly Henson and Marina Burton carry the play's chilling and corrective vision. Gerald Berkowitz

Spread Zoo Southside You may have already seen a few shows dealing with the media pressures on women's body image, and even one or two offering a satirical take on gossip magazines and cookery shows. But you probably haven't seen anything as brave and bold as this all-female show in which one of the central sketches has the protagonist shaking her flab in front of an invisible mirror, wearing only her underwear and a pig snout, and singing the theme from Love Story. This is a comedy show so it will actually be funny at the time as you'll quickly get used to Hourglass's smooth but deeply ironic sense of humour. In fact you'll probably love them so much that you won't even wince once as they smear themselves with treacle and chocolate powder, gyrating suggestively and singing Don't You Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me into a rolling pin. The show is all about food and therefore a mouth-watering display is only to be expected, but this particular offering will certainly leave a bittersweet aftertaste in your mouth. Duska Radosavljevic

Stenclmusic C soco From the 19th century to World War II, Jewish immigrants played a key role in developing the garment industry in London's East End despite appalling poverty and prejudice. Whitechapel was very much the hub of it all and, in celebration, Neyire Ashworth becomes an entertaining cast of residents while also playing a range of clarinets in Stephen Watts' play. . The evocative tunes she plays represent each character too, and at one point she even measures up a customer whose awkward shape is likened to the curves of her bass clarinet. Meanwhile an onstage screen mixes mouthwatering images of bagels with archive photos of tailors, machinists and their families. Voices appear too: memories of cooking for the Sabbath, the boys going to religious cheder school, workers sacked for taking Jewish holidays, Avrom Stencl's Yiddish poems of life in the East End. There are thoughtful contrasts: the traditional Hannukah spinning top song with a girl wondering about Christianity's Santa Claus, images of today's Bengali sweet shops with the rye bread bakers of yesteryore. Kids' scraps turn to gangs fights which turn to the pitched battle of Cable Street against the British fascists. Evacuation - and, unstated here, economic improvement - helps the move to places like Stamford Hill, leaving us with Stencl's lament that Whitechapel is forgotten though only 'a shilling's drive away'. Aside from the intriguing blend of performance and media, Stenclmusic is an unusual look at the process of loss of identity long before assimilation starts its work. At the moment, the show is probably best appreciated if you already have some knowledge of this small part of London and of the history of East End Jews. With a more formal backing and more work on the script, this has the potential to become an excellent piece of educational theatre for a far wider audience. Nick Awde

Stonewall Pleasance On June 28, 1969 a New York City gay bar underwent one of its regularly scheduled, almost ritualistic police raids, but for some reason on that night the queens fought back, beginning a week of riots and demonstrations that are celebrated as the beginning of America's gay pride movement.  Rikki Beadle-Blair's play. an adaptation of his screenplay of a decade ago, celebrates the myth of Stonewall in a way that is true in spirit if fictional in plot, and that provides one of the most thoroughly entertaining dirty pleasures of the festival. Set in a magical version of history in which the city is made of tinsel and the entire cast is covered head to toe in glitter, the play follows newcomer to New York Matty Dean, who falls for La Mirada, one of the drag queens who frequent the Stonewall. More political than most, Matty is at first drawn to the cautious Mattechine Society's way of working within the system until he sees how ineffectual and compromising they are, returning to the Stonewall world just as a cop picks exactly the wrong moment to hassle one of the queens. With the romance of Matty and La Mirada at its centre, the play thus gets the chance to look at a cross-section of the 1969 gay world, from the most flamboyant of queens to the tragically closeted man who can't face the fact that he loves one of them. It also celebrates the spirit of liberation by interrupting the action at regular intervals with delightfully staged lip-synced musical numbers set to the recordings of girl groups of the period. Strong performances from Alexis Gregory as La Mirada, Joel Dommett as Matty, and author-director Rikki Beadle-Blair as the gang's spiritual den mother lead a large cast and set a tone that encompasses the real personal dramas and the spirit of liberation. Stonewall has all the glamour of a drag queen's dreams and all the sleaze of a morning after.   Gerald Berkowitz

Stoopud Fucken Animals Traverse Joel Horwood's play is, according to its press release, a combined attempt to reinvent the musical theatre form and to use the genre of the cowboy movie to mythologise the British countryside. It is, in fact, a string of soap opera clichés enlivened a bit by being set in a Suffolk backwater and punctuated by a couple of half-hearted country-and-western tunes. Two brothers trapped in the dead-end world of a dying farm community discover a Dark Secret about their birth, and if I tell you that the woman they call mother is actually gran, and that an aging country singer and a runaway London whore are in the cast of characters, you can figure out the rest. With nothing beyond those not-particularly-revelatory revelations to drive the plot, and with not much in the way of character development or evocation of the milieu along the way, the play drags its way to a conclusion that is its one original touch. Confrontations that would seem destined for violence or some tragic outcome are resolved peacefully as the characters recognise and accept each other's imperfections - which, depending on how you take it, is either a soft cop-out or a belated rebellion against the soap opera conventions that bound the play up to that point.  Gerald Berkowitz

Story of a Rabbit Pleasance I have been asked to write this review of Hugh Hughes' new show. It is actually a new show by Shon Dale-Jones, but he seems to prefer being known as his alter ego both on and off stage at the moment. In this review I am going to tell you a little bit about the show but without giving it all away so that if you go and see it you can still enjoy it for yourself. Also I am going to try and highlight what particularly worked and what didn't work so well. Hugh Hughes may not like to read the latter, but it is all well-meaning and intended to give him some sort of feedback which he can incorporate in his future work. Feedback is a very useful thing about reviewing. Another useful thing about reviewing is that it gives a taster to those who have not seen the show, so that they can decide whether or not to go. What I have tried to do so far in this review is to give you a taster of Hugh Hughes' style of expression. If you have seen Hughes' last year's show about leaving home, Floating, you will hopefully know what I mean. In Story of a Rabbit, Hughes uses exactly the same format to explore the issues of memory, bereavement and parental death. His child-like wonder together with a mildly poetic meditation on highly abstract issues will make this show suitable, likeable and very relevant to a broad-ranging audience. If you haven't seen Hughes' work before, you will find it slightly unusual at first, but also extremely enticing, amusing and eventually quite moving too. The second time around, though, this isn't the case equally as much as the first time. This is because the novelty wears off. Initially, the style is part of the content. The second time, unless there is a clear thematic reason, it seems to become just a style, even when dealing with pain. Equally, I will probably not have a good reason to write a review like this again. Duska Radosavljevic

Subway  Traverse at the Drill Hall Conceived and directed by Matthew Lenton and produced by Vanishing Point, this new play imagines a dystopic near future in which such Big Brother features as omnipresent CCTV cameras, identity cards and social-conditioning legislation like restrictions on smoking have moved just further enough along from where they are now to be nightmarish, and in which the poor are even more marginalised and disenfranchised. Inspired by the ramblings of a street drunk, a Hull lad decides to visit his father in Edinburgh. He finds his old neighbourhood in the throes of gentrification, his father relegated to a high-rise slum, and what political awareness and rebellious impulses there had been now reduced to impotence. In a world in which the poor and sick must buy lottery tickets whose prize is admission to the newly built hospital that displaced their homes, the only victories left are the tiniest of symbolic gestures, like lighting up a pipe in a public place. Despite attractive performances by Sandy Grierson as the boy and Rosalind Sydney as everyone else, there wouldn't be enough news or drama here to hold our interest were it not for the participation of a seven-piece band from Kosovo, who provide a continuous and always attractive soundscape ranging in styles from traditional through classical and jazz to emotive movie music.    Gerald Berkowitz

Talking Pants! Gilded Balloon Ian Billings writes for Chuckelvision, he publishes children's poetry and is also a stand up comedian. From what I've seen, this last pursuit is largely a means of promoting the first two, his material revolving mostly around 'why it's great to be a writer' in the idiom of a schoolboy. Even though this potentially sounds vaguely educational, it is mostly a licence for Billings to indulge in a series of silly scenarios, such us turning Ba Ba Black Sheep into a subject of the Rhyme Squad investigations and setting Star Wars: The Return of the Jelly in a school canteen. Billed as being suitable for 6 to 11 year olds, Billing's show stays firmly within that category, leaving adults predominantly unamused. And even though the children do chuckle and fill all the deliberate pauses with approving noises, it very much seems that the person who is having the most fun here is Billings himself. Duska Radosavljevic

Talking to Space Hoppers   C Soco The spirit of Willy Russell's Shirley Valentine hovers over this new play written by Angela Truby and Joanna Swain, and performed by Swain. Like Shirley, their discontented north-of-England housewife likes to think of herself by her maiden name, as a symbol of the lively and happy girl she once was. Shirley talked to the wall, Bev talks to a favourite toy from her childhood; Shirley went to Greece, Bev takes a night class in stand-up comedy; Shirley had a fling with a Greek man, Bev with a younger classmate. And the moral of both stories is that, when the conventional world they've been trying to live within stifles them, they're better off breaking free. Which is not to say that Bev's story is not enjoyable to watch, due largely to Joanna Swain's warm and lively performance, or that it has nothing new to tell us. Where Shirley Valentine ended her play wanting to share some of her new happiness with her husband, Bev is surprised and ultimately delighted to discover that she feels no obligation to hers at all. We also get to see Bev trying out her stand-up act a couple of times, with routines finding comic twists to the events in her life, which may remind you of that Sally Field - Tom Hanks movie, but that's just one more footnote to this play whose appeal lies not in originality but in presentation.    Gerald Berkowitz

Tell Underbelly Despite an illustrious start to his theatre career as an assistant director in the West End, Tim Digby-Bell's playwriting and directorial debut with his newly-founded company seems to be more of a testament to a love of radio. Even the shipping forecast, that sure sign of radio worship, gets an honourable cameo in this deeply nostalgic love story. Essentially, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this - and in fact a shipping forecast itself might even make an excellent subject for a play. The main problem of this piece in its current state is that it seems to misunderstand the function of storytelling and mise-en-scene in theatre. Even though aspects of its stage imagery are rather charming and Holden-White is capable of some fine characterisation, the relentless scenic illustrating of what is being said is eventually tedious and quite pointless. The story being related, with great technical skill, is therefore never fully rendered either verbally or visually as it, most importantly, fails to secure the audience's imaginative involvement in either. Duska Radosavljevic

The Terrible Infants Pleasance Song, rhyme, puppets and slapstick make for a great romp via Les Enfants Terribles' tall tales about terrible children. Little Tilly deservedly heads the list - she feels compelled to tell fib after fib until she ends up growing a terrible tail of her own. There's the achingly sad story of Thingummyboy whose silent protest means that nobody notices him, even his parents. And then there's Little Linena, covered in patches and the original material girl, whose youthful vanity falls foul of the 'avid followers of fashion'. The cast wear their ragamuffin garb with pride and jump into their characters with glee - there's a continuous stream of new scenes with each costume change. What happens in between the terrible tales is just as captivating as the travelling band of players joke, jibe and gyrate with each other. Witty and hummable, the songs are written and played by Tom Gisby and Neil Townsend on a Heath Robinson-like array of instruments. Meanwhile the puppets are similarly diverse: a huge pink baby's head, shadow puppets, a hand-held marionette. Sam Wyer's set is another star of the show: an appealing clutter that includes side-show on wheels, the band section and inventive props plucked from the unlikeliest of locations, including a seriously giant pink umbrella. There is a refreshingly modern twist to all of this that does not detract from its gothic morality, so taking the spirit of Struwwelpeter, Edward Gorey and Roald Dahl screeching and laughing into the 21st century. Nick Awde

Timeless Dancebase In the world of dance, age is a key concept in itself. Until not so long ago, dancers would have been forced to retire in their 30s. It is therefore hard not to watch a piece with the 79 year old Diana Payne-Myers in it without admiring her graceful gait and straight spine while thinking of all her contemporaries' arthritic limbs and hip replacement therapies. In Mathew Hawkins's piece entitled Muscular Memory Lane, we are asked to appreciate the duet in much more objective terms - and Payne-Myers is such a seasoned professional that her performance is entirely timeless too. On the other end of the scale are the choreographer Beth Cassani and her 14 and 12 year old sons Jacob and Tom. Although not old enough yet to be seen as true professionals, the simply adorable brothers gradually defy all such preconceptions, showing that their free-form imagination and refreshing innocence are also matched by a highly disciplined approach to their art. The triptych, also featuring a boyishly tender male duet from Canada therefore makes for highly entertaining, moving and thought-provoking viewing - regardless of the age of the viewer. Duska Radosavljevic

Jimmy Tingle's American Dream Assembly Hailing from Boston, Jimmy Tingle came over to do his first one-man show in 1990 and left with a Perrier nomination.Via a fruitful pair of years as an ironic commentator on the primetime TV show 60 Minutes, he ended up running his own 200-seat theatre in his home town, and he's still performing. This trip he's here to present his version of the American Dream in a single hour - a daunting task, but one he performs with relish.The result is a series of wry insights from an expert commmentator illuminating not so much the United States as a whole but the mindset of ordinary Americans. Subjects range from how to be a cafeteria Catholic to sodomy and the law, while a salvo against slavery leads to ruminations on torture the Guantanamo way - Tingle finds a light twist of humour in the most weighty of topics. Disappointingly, for someone with his finger on so many pulses, he hasn't bothered to filter his material for the UK. There's a good reason why questioning the audience over public financing of political campaigns meets with baffled silence. Not quite a tumbleweed moment, but almost. He needs to cross the cultural divide although of course we wouldn't want him to stoop to toe-crawlingly faux British or (shudder) Scottish routines. There is, however, a resounding click of recognition when he mentions Iraq - it's as fascinating as it is funny to hear the American version of events compared to our own (they started it, after all), before launching into a ripping prose poem about body counts. Nick Awde

Tony! The Blair Musical C Venue Tony Blair can retire secure in the knowledge that there are two musicals in town celebrating his rise and fall at Westminster. This one promises 'ten years of Labour rule in just one hour'. Tony has a vision (Lady Di with angel wings) that he's going to be a star. Like Evita Peron, he meets various people along the way who help him to the top, only to neglect, betray or fall out with them. Aside from the usual Downing Street crew, George W Bush makes a couple of appearances as do Jeremy Paxman and that sexed-up dossier. As Blair, James Duckworth looks and sounds the part down to the smallest tic and proves this is no surface impression by creating an unexpectedly sympathetic figure on all counts. Strong-voiced Ellie Cox avoids any unnecessary caricature of the already uncaricaturable Cherie and so convinces as the discarded wife with touching ballads such as 'Haven't We Done Well' In strong support, although perhaps less so in voice, are Jethro Compton as Tony's new love Peter Mandelson, Ed Duncan Smith as Alastair Campbell - cue their celeb duet 'I Want You to be a Man of the People' - Mike Slater as Gordon Brown and Alex Stevens as John Prescott, who all acquit themselves well. Despite the four-piece band, the arrangements are low key, which is probably a good thing since any more would detract from the songs, which are more lyric-based (by Chris Bush) than thumping melodies (by Ian McCluskey). The highlight has to be the barber shop quartet of forgotten Tory party leaders, and it's amazing how many words rhyme with 'Blair'. Despite its relative complexity, as with its model Evita - hardly the most perfect of works - the show over-concentrates on the central character of Tony and reduces the interesting personalities in his life to near cyphers solely to provide colour and contrast. While that makes for some great torch songs, it robs the show of the chance of a resounding climax as well as any real connection with the hurly-burly world of politics. Nick Awde

Touch Pleasance A lonely and repressed man impulsively and almost accidentally saves the life of a suicidal girl and then can't get rid of her or her sudden burst of optimism and life-affirmation, which confuses him and threatens his closed but safe existence. Given that premise, you can probably predict the rest of Bill Dare's play, and indeed much of what follows the set-up is strictly by-the-numbers plotting and characterisation. Still, there are a few surprises and original twists on the formula, sufficient to hold your interest and your empathy with the two nicely drawn and attractively played characters. The man is characterised by compulsive orderliness and a neurotic aversion to being touched, and his isolation is nicely represented by the high-power telescope through which he watches the comfortably distant heavens and sometimes his neighbours, and through which he has seen the woman from afar before, and created a whole imagined personality for her in his mind, which is now measured against the reality. She, in turn, seems an odd mix of depression and near-manic optimism, with hints in her demands for organic food and fair trade tea of some order and compulsion issues parallel to his. And while we discover that she may not have been quite as suicidal or in need of saving as she seemed at the time, she does have secret sorrows that underlie her determined cheeriness and make her vulnerable. And so, if the end of their dance of tentative reaching out and frightened withdrawal is inevitable, we are drawn in to the hope that the force of her personality will break through his repression, as his neediness enables her to risk loving him. Performers Lucinda Millward and Rupert Holliday Evans contribute to the play's effect through their natural warmth, hers underlying a veneer of confidence that hints at insensitivity and pushiness in her character, his peeping irrepressibly through the man's self-protective shell.   Gerald Berkowitz

Traces Assembly Rooms This show has the kind of word of mouth that fills the Assembly's biggest space at tea time. You can see why, as it would be a real crowd pleaser even if the four hunky guys and cute babe did nothing more than stand around for an hour. However, that is not their bag. The Canadian quintet Les 7 Doigts de la Main are talented and brave acrobats and clowns, with good gymnastic skills and a great act. Unusually, the team build on their own characters through the set, which helps the audience to identify with them. They seem determined to outdo each other from an opening dance sequence onwards. The energy levels are amazing, as they go through their paces together and individually, building to a climax with piled rings through which they jump and roll, that brings the house down. Everyone will have their highlights in this breathless show but the use of upright bars on which every team member seemingly defies gravity again and again should live in the memory for a long time. Philip Fisher

Truckstop Zoo This Dutch play by Lot Vekemans, skilfully translated by Rina Vergano, tells a sweet and ultimately dark little story with great sensitivity and beauty, and this production directed by Christopher Rolls does it full justice. A woman runs a modest little highway restaurant with her daughter, who is what a doctor might call high-functioning autistic - that is, within very structured limits, she is able and proud to do a limited repertoire of assigned chores. But two things simultaneously threaten this little world - a competitor up the road has remodelled and is stealing all the business, and the daughter has fallen in love with a local lad. The boy is clearly something of a loser, but he dreams of owning his own truck, and the daughter is caught up in the fantasy. And so a clash of complicated desires is set up. Does the boy love the girl or the dream she helps him have? Does mother want to protect her or hold on to funds that are in the daughter's name and that she wants for the business? The answer to both questions is yes to both halves, and one of the things that makes Vekemans' play so rich is that there are no good guys and bad guys. It also provides three rich acting roles that the cast make much of, Janet Bamford as the complex and conflicted mother, Adam Best as the innocent and attractive loser, and Eugenia Caruso as the daughter limited in mind but not in heart. Gerald Berkowitz

Truth in Translation Assembly Rooms Contrary to the Fringe mode, this is the kind of piece for which you ought to set aside a whole day to really appreciate it. Focusing on the stories of the South African interpreters from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of 1996, Michael Lessac's production combines documentary and music theatre to explore the themes of responsibility, healing and emotional (non)-involvement in the stories of torture. Asked to switch off our phones and remain uninvolved, we are then exposed to a complicated mixture of layered conversations, heart-rending songs and film footage projected on a screen made of anonymous shirts. Pieces of horrifying stories are interspersed with moments of light relief as we also witness the dreams, desires and pains of the individual interpreters who gradually morph from invisible mediators into three-dimensional characters. It is however a person on the margins of that world who will win your heart however hard you try to resist it - for Nobhule, the comforter, played by the wonderful Thembi Mtshali-Jones, will do it in the universal language of song. Duska Radosavljevic

Unnatural Acts   Gilded Balloon [DISCLAIMER: This play was co-written by my colleague and fellow TheatreguideLondon reviewer Nick Awde . Read what follows in that context.] Chris Bartlett and Nick Awde, who wrote the 2005 Edinburgh hit Pete And Dud - Come Again, follow it up with a genre-buster - a romantic comedy without the romance. Unnatural Acts may sometimes have the feel of a pilot for a TV sitcom, but it provides a nice twist on the rom com genre and more than its share of laughs.  Jessica Martin plays a woman whose biological alarm clock is ringing loudly, but the only man in sight is her gay flatmate, played by comic Jason Wood. Turkey basters are out of the question, so the unthinkable must be faced to conquer the inconceivable. It's a naturally comic situation, and the playwrights have provided not only lots of opportunity for both parties to vacillate in their commitment to this plan, but also lots of clever lines and sight gags. There are also some quieter moments and opportunities for the two actors to deepen the characters beyond sitcom shallowness - she has just been dumped rather unhappily and he is mourning for a relationship that died some time ago.  I saw the show very early in the run, when the performers hadn't quite found all the laughs, and one sensed good lines being swallowed when a little punching would have made then score. But that's the sort of thing audiences will teach them, and I'm sure the show can only get funnier as the run goes on.   Gerald Berkowitz

Unsex Me Here Pleasance Skye Loneragan's solo performance piece begins with Cinderella missing her deadline because she can't run in high heels. It goes on to include Lady Macbeth constantly interrupted by her children as she nags her husband, a female lawyer hobbled by a tight skirt, Snow White, Pippi Longstocking, Bo Peep, Old Mother Hubbard and Edith Piaf. At one point the lawyer lectures on the history of shoes and the cultural fascination with the raised calf, at another there is a trial, apparently brought by Prince Charming, though who is suing whom for what is never clear. One guesses that there is a point to all this, possibly a feminist criticism of subjugation to a hobbling shoe style, but with difficulty keeping the simple story clear, Loneragan is unable to connect the various strands or make them resonate to any larger meaning. Nor is the piece effective as a showcase for her talent as a performer, as all her characters tend to look, act and sound very similar, she has trouble with her props, and the one clear moment in the hour comes at the end, when she steps forward to tell an uncertain audience that it is over. Gerald Berkowitz

Venus As A Boy Traverse Luke Sutherland's novel traces the journey of a simple Scottish lad from his Orkney childhood to a career (if that's the word for it) as a London rent boy, the story carried by the balance between its frequently violent and ugly surface and the narrator's conviction that he is such an inspired lover that everyone who tastes of his wares has a transcendent and life-changing experience. Veteran actor Tam Dean Burn has adapted the novel into a solo show, with the novelist (an accomplished musician) providing an original and evocative backing soundscape.  Burn is an actor of considerable skill and personal charm, but he is not a young boy and he cannot create the theatrical illusion of being one. And so we are always aware that we are watching an older actor narrating the story of a younger character, which is not the same thing as living it through the character. Clearly a labour of love on Dean's part, this remains more an actor's exercise and an external tale-telling than a successful dramatisation of the book.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Voice of Things - Toilet Paper Underbelly Object manipulation seems to have really taken off at this year's festival - you can easily see mundane items attempting poignant characterisations even in some of the most mainstream work. In their exploratory piece, Jiwon Yang and Chiara De Palo go that one step further and devote their entire show to an exclusive theatrical beatification of toilet paper. Although at times this has the air of an academic experiment combining a cartoonish script of giggles and monosyllabic exclamations with some choreographed movement and Chiara De Palo's very beautiful Italian singing, it is eventually quite engaging and inspiring too. Its stated aim might have been to imbue the least poetic everyday object with a meditative kind of poetry typical of Francis Ponge, but this piece definitely transcends its origins and becomes about a lot of other universal everyday things. Duska Radosavljevic

The Voices In My Head Have Formed A Choir And Somebody's Singing Flat! Gilded Balloon American actor-singer Don Stitt is one of those journeyman performers lucky enough to have worked pretty steadily for several decades, even without ever becoming a star. The story of his life and career is therefore unusual and uplifting on the one hand, and not especially colourful or exciting on the other, and while he seems a pleasant enough chap, he doesn't have the force of personality to hold the stage on his own. Stitt's story takes us from his early days in San Francisco fringe theatre to featured roles in Broadway and road company musicals, and while he drops a few names along the way - he once beat out Robin Williams for a role - it seems at first odd that most of the characters he describes and portrays are even less well-known than he. His purpose becomes clear only near the end of the show in a way that does darken and deepen the hour, giving it resonances it didn't have as mere autobiography, as we learn that almost everyone we've met had the same tragic fate and thus understand why they are still in his head. Gerald Berkowitz

Waiting for Alice Assembly If you've wondered whatever happened to Tweedledum and Tweedledee, look no further. What begins as a comic riff on Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass soon becomes something a little darker by blending Lewis Carroll with Samuel Beckett, thanks to Phill Jupitus and Andre Vincent. Dum is cool and sorted, Dee is the jittery one, the worrier, but ultimately both are hornets' nests of neuroses and, via their constant tiffs, we learn that not only are they two literary characters in search of a protagonist (read: Godot) but also a reader. Stuck in a thespian time loop, the brothers are in perpetual rehearsal for the moment when Alice turns up, for feedback they have instant reviews constantly to hand critiquing their roles. Sibling rivalry is always simmering beneath the surface and insults are gloriously traded. Whether or not to use silly voices while narrating The Walrus and the Carpenter causes one explosion, a ukulele ditty causes another. Style, sight gags and visual wordplay abound as the dumpy duo delve into their past, present and future and square up to 68 years of slights and gripes. Beckett, naturally, would approve of the pervading music hall style. Things start slowly but it's the getting there that's the fun. As writers, Jupitus and Vincent have focused on the conundrums so beloved of Carroll and Beckett, both mischievous masters of the philosophical absurd. As performers, they masterfully match up to each other as the agoraphobic autistics who somehow manage to preserve some shred of dignity. On the night Jupitus was Dum and Vincent Dee (they swap roles each show thanks to a neat Escher-like twist), and although they have the advantage of physical presence - well-fed boys, neither has to exactly pad up for the part - luckily for us they also relish the wordplay and interchange of these terrible twins. Nick Awde

The Walworth Farce Traverse Sometimes a play will be structured in two modes or two levels of reality, complementing or bouncing off each other, but the key to making such a construct work is getting the balance just right. Enda Walsh's new play combines the comic and the serious, the make-believe and the real. But it gets the balance wrong, and the wrong parts dominate, to the detriment of the play as a whole. We begin with what seems a grotesque, Ortonesque family, which we gradually realise is a slightly less grotesque family acting out an Ortonesque script of their own devising, their clumsiness at it being part of the joke. Eventually we will figure out that father is indoctrinating his adult sons in a mythical version of the family history that brought them from Ireland to the London flat in which they have been hiding out for years. And with the cracking of that myth and the dangerous involvement of an outsider, we discover how mentally and emotionally crippling this whole process has been. And perhaps you can begin to see the problem. The play is not about the Ortonesque farce, but about the darker reality, and yet at least three-quarters of the text is devoted to the playing-out-the-myth scenes. As a result, what should be the centre of the play - the real characters and the cost to them of sustaining the myth - is given short shrift, while the play-acting scenes, funny as they may be, are eventually rejected by the play as not where we should be looking.  Gerald Berkowitz

Wasted (Y)ears Pleasance Dome In his mid-30s Tim Barlow decided to become an actor, undeterred by the facts that he had no training, had spent most of his adult life in the army, was four years away from a pension, had a wife and children to support, and was deaf. This is his story. Now 70-ish, Barlow tells his tale with humour and charm, explaining how he joined the army because heroism seemed a good career choice, how testing a new rifle destroyed his hearing and how, after several foreign postings, he found himself  behind a desk in London, the logic of Military Intelligence placing a deaf man in a listening post. In London his love of theatre was reawakened, and Barlow takes us through the turmoil of deciding whether to give up one of the most secure careers in the world ('unless you're killed, of course') for one of the least. And by that time we have gotten to know and enjoy the company of this man of indefatigable energy, optimism and good cheer. Barlow's show finishes just as he gets his first acting job, leaving us wondering about his experiences as a deaf actor. But, as he tells us at the end of his hour, that is another story.  Gerald Berkowitz

What If?   Pleasance Tale On Fire, a young company dedicated to visually inventive theatre, turn their attention to MyFace and other online communities in this group-created piece that may not have much new to say, but that finds some inventive ways of saying it. A rather ordinary guy of limited social skills finds it easier to chat with people online than to say hello to the girl he admires from afar. An ambitious journalist latches on to this sad sack and, under the guise of befriending him, pumps him for material that he then uses in a completely undisguised and unflattering portrait in his article, destroying whatever minimal confidence and minimal social standing the poor guy may have had. There isn't a whole lot that's new there, and the story is told in rather simplistic black-and-white terms - it might have made for more complex drama if the victim hadn't been quite such a loser, or if the reporter found himself falling under the online spell. What does catch the eye and the mind is the way the story is told visually. Newspapers in which our hero is interested only in the personal ads are represented by blank sheets of paper, for example, while his empty life is reflected in an all-beige set, and the excitement of online contact is depicted by different coloured ribbons springing out of each character's laptop to connect with the others.  Gerald Berkowitz

Wish I Had A Sylvia Plath   Baby Belly The too-oft-told tale of Sylvia Plath, the poet unfortunately married to another poet and so beaten down by his egotism, abuse and infidelities, along with the burdens of wife-and-motherhood, that her talent suffered and she killed herself, is startlingly refreshed and made more real in this play by Edward Anthony, through a curious sort of deconstruction. Onstage we see a fictional version of Plath, named Esther, in the last hallucinating seconds of her suicide, when the oven into which she has stuck her head starts talking to her, and memories are projected on a large video screen above. Elisabeth Gray plays Esther, also providing the voices of the oven and of her offstage children, and her conversations with them, along with the flashbacks we see on the screen, tell a story much like Plath's with one key difference. Although we are told repeatedly that Esther and her philandering husband are both poets, something in the presentation makes us not believe it for a minute. And stripped of that one element, the Plath myth suddenly becomes both more mundane and more universal. Seen simply as the sad little story of a woman who found no nourishment in her marriage or her life, Esther's suicide doesn't have to be heroic in stature or mythic in meanings. And the thought that maybe that's all there really was to Plath's story is intriguing. Elisabeth Gray holds the stage and holds everything together with an intense performance that is neither overpowered nor upstaged by either the talking oven or the video sequences.   Gerald Berkowitz

Worlds End   Pleasance Dome There isn't an apostrophe missing in that title; Paul Sellar's play is a reminder that people's whole worlds can end when what they were built on is taken away. In this case it is love, and the cautionary tale of Ben, who foolishly threw away the one thing he would miss most when it was gone. Ben is very much a son of Jimmy Porter, and the shadow of John Osborne hangs heavy over this play as failed writer Ben first vents his spleen and then pours out his raw pain in a string of eloquent arias, as he watches his former girlfriend move her things out of his flat. Like Jimmy Porter, Ben talks at people, not to them, seeking to overpower them with his raw emotion, which we gradually understand is directed at his own failures even more than at those who have failed him. And like Jimmy, he really needs those he pushes away, particularly Kat, who tried so hard to love him until his inability to give anything back forced her to go. It is a tribute to director Paul Robinson and the actors that, despite Ben dominating the text and Merryn Owen giving as raw and powerful a performance as you are likely to see in Edinburgh, this one character is not allowed to run away with the play. Fiona Button as Kat, Monica Bertei as her supportive friend briefly tempted by Ben's need and energy (another echo of Look Back In Anger) and Jamie Belman as Kat's new boyfriend all hold their own onstage, keeping the drama balanced and everybody's story of interest.   Gerald Berkowitz

Wunderkind Underbelly Blood and glitter on the wall. In a nutshell, that's what filmmaking is all about in Darren Thornton's fiercely cutting new satire. Owen McDonnell gives an adrenaline-rich solo performance as Sean Quinn, an Irish film director on the brink of international fame. Through a rather clever use of DVD commentary-style vox pops and Quinn's own football commentary-style accounts of his pursuit of success and injuries to his ego, we are confronted with a vivid depiction of the lures and trappings of the silver screen. It is mildly intriguing watching Quinn attempt to locate himself somewhere on the self-defined scale between a wunderkind and a spiritually bankrupt failure as he whizzes through London's media parties and night clubs, in an anticipation of his big walk down the red carpet on Leicester Square. However, one can't help wondering what the relevance of this is to the rest of us who would much rather just sit down with a packet of popcorn in blissful ignorance of what goes on behind the scenes. Duska Radosavljevic

Xenu is Loose! C Venue An attempt at a science fiction comic rock opera in the general mode of the Rocky Horror Show is hampered by a weak and confused book and further crippled by inadequate direction and performances. Xenu is an intergalactic tyrant imprisoned 75 million years ago for, among other crimes, implanting in humans all the religions, myths and errors that would hobble the race forever. Now he's out and ready to cause more trouble, and all the forces of Scientology seem unable to stop him. Why Scientology? No particular reason, except that the authors of the play (Tom Richards, Stewart Pringle and Henry Richards) either strongly approve or strongly disapprove of the movement - it is not at all clear which. At any rate, a group of young Scientologists fight the alien unsuccessfully, despite bringing in Tom Cruise in one of the few witty moments in the script - another is having Xenu eventually defeated by a coalition of Health and Safety Inspectors and Traffic Wardens. Most of the performers are young, and one half-hopes that Collapsible Theatre is a disguised school production, since that would explain the general amateurishness. Very few in the cast can make themselves heard over a single keyboard, even with mikes, and they tend to stand or move about the stage aimlessly. On the other hand, Xenu's costume and makeup are moderately clever, in an early-Doctor-Who sort of way. Gerald Berkowitz

Yellow Moon Traverse Theatre David Greig's play, commissioned for performances to young Scottish audiences, places a familiar plot in a very specific context that redefines and renews it. A teenage boy and girl tentatively connect, and when an almost accidental killing puts him on the run, she goes along. What keeps this from being just another Bonnie-and-Clyde rerun is the fact that neither is really criminal. Both are simply lost and unhappy adolescents, and the sad fact is that this adventure is the most real and alive thing they've experienced. Still, they are products of their time and place, and the source of much of the play's emotional power comes from the recognition of how often they come close to something resembling modest, ordinary happiness, only to miss it as some invisible wall of class, self-perception or imagination keeps them from seeing and grabbing it. This is a small and subtle insight, and in performance one is too much aware of how little actually happens, and how clichéd much of that is. This sense of dramatic thinness is compounded by a presentational mode that devotes perhaps 80% of the text to description and narration, the cast of four taking turns telling us what the characters are thinking, feeling and doing as they act the moments out. Gerald Berkowitz

Andy Zaltzman, 32, Administers His Emergency Dose of Afternoon Utopia, Steps Back, and Waits to See What Happens The Stand Effortlessly blurring the dividing line between comedy and politics (i.e. fact and fiction), Andy Zaltzman races through, oh, about a million different topics in the single hour he has allotted by the Stand. Within two seconds of starting he has already asked what sort of world he's bringing his new baby into and described the flea circus he intends to bring on before launching into a description of how Alastair Campbell's grandfather invented PR after the sinking of the Titanic. He finally flips open his laptop and starts filling in a Q&A for the audience - this is part of his survey on how people see their ideal Utopia. It's a great form of audience interaction and an effective method of dealing with potential hecklers since whatever anyone says Zaltzman simply keys it into his computer. In between, he proves the existence of democracy by raising cheers for Blair's departure and dead silence for Brown's ascension or reading out a surreal fable about his spoilt ballot paper. His riff on Iraq is overlengthy although insightful, while the Jackanory-style tale of how he set out to defeat Chinese industry is more baffling than witty. But I probably need to remind myself here that this is dense stuff. Not only a supreme political commentator, Zaltzman also has a great line in comic self-analysis, wordplay and sporting metaphors. He is generous to his audience too - we got a four-star rating, although sadly we never discovered our perfect Utopia. Nick Awde

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

 

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Reviews - Edinburgh Festival - 2007