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 The Theatreguide.London Reviews

EDINBURGH FESTIVAL AND FRINGE 2008

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 even with a reduced reviewing team we were able to cover almost 150. Once again, our thanks to Edinburgh veterans Duska Radosavljevic and Philip Fisher for contributing to these pages.

Because the list is so long, we have split it into two pages. The reviews are in alphabetical order (soloists by last name), with A-L on this page and M-Z on another.

Scroll down this page for our review of ABFCAP - Absolution - A Cold Slap Down Under - Aeneas Faversham Forever - All Dressed Up To Go Dreaming - Alpha Males - The American, The Coloured and Me - And On Your Left - The Angel and the Woodcutter - Another Kind of Silence - Another Paradise - Apes Like Me - Architecting - Dan Atkinson - Baldanders - Beautiful People Don't Travel Economy - The Bee - David Benson - Beth Becomes Her - Boys of the Empire - Breathing Corpses - Bully - Burtscher, Goldstein and Howell - By The Way - Jason Byrne - Simon Callow - Cambridge Footlights - Caruso and the Quake - Charlie Victor Romeo - Circus Oz - Class Enemy - Nina Conti - Hal Cruttenden - Cure - Dad's Money - Dark Grumblings - The Darkling Plain - Deep Cut - Rob Deering - Diary of a Nobody - Diet of Worms - Domestic Goddi - Nick Doody - Dragon Lady - A Drunk Woman Looks at the Thistle - The Durham Revue - Britt Ekland - Everyone We Know - Face in the Crowd - The Factory - Fall - Finished With Enlines - Tim Fitzhigham - Flanders and Swann - Funk It Up About Nothin' - Ginger and Black - Global Warming is Gay - Stefan Golaszewski - Ha Ha Hamlet - Happy Savages - Heart and Sole - Richard Herring - The Highwayman - Craig Hill - How It Ended - I Caught Crabs in Walberswick - I Love You Bro - In A Thousand Pieces - Itsoseng - Jesus: The Guantanamo Years - Jumping the Shark - The Just In Case - Kit and the Widow - Lie of the Land - Life at the Molecular Level - Lost in the Wind - Lough Rain - Lucky Nurse


ABFCAP - The Life And Rhymes Of Ian Dury Zoo [Transfered to London as HIT ME! - The life and....]
Openly a celebration of and love letter to the singer-songwriter who produced some of the wittiest lyrics of the punk rock era (the title is an acronym of one of his more obscene songs), Jeff Merrifield's play catches Dury at three points from his peak in the 1980s to his death in 2000. While the dramaturgy is rudimentary, generally consisting of Dury and his friend/minder/roadie Fred 'Spider' Rowe either telling each other things they already know or taking turns addressing the audience directly with memories and anecdotes, the details and performances do accumulate to build a living portrait of the man with all his flaws and contradictions. It would have been easy to make him just a generic bad boy of rock'n'roll, but Merrifield makes believable connections between Dury's childhood polio, which left him crippled, and both his creative energy and his dissipation of it. The guy who could be loved and hated by those around him in almost equal measure was paradoxically as happy with a cup of tea as with a bottle of brandy, content to alternate cutting-edge rock with TV ad voiceovers. Supported by Josh Darcy's exasperated and loving Spider, Jud Charlton not only does a spot-on impersonation of Dury, both speaking and singing, but creates a rounded, sympathetic character you don't need to know the original to respond to. Gerald Berkowitz

Absolution Assembly
In the category of subjects we'd really rather not think about, pedophile priests must rank high. And yet the subject does keep arising in fringe drama, almost as frequently as it does in the news. Owen O'Neill's play, in which he stars, approaches the subject a bit obliquely, by being the monologue of a man who is a self-appointed avenging angel for all the abused children. In a bare room that might be a prison cell, he exercises and hardens himself as he describes the murders of several guilty priests. Just who he is and why he is on this crusade is kept from us until a surprise ending. But along the way even the gory details of his killings are overshadowed by his intense and eloquently expressed sense of justice and justification. O'Neill, better known to many as a stand-up comic, demonstrates a control and intensity that make the man frightening even as he hangs tenuously on to our sympathy. Gerald Berkowitz

A Cold Slap Down Under Argyle
Despite their mutual liking for Facebook and potentially some shared distant origins from the British isles, as personalities and stand up comedians Australian Marcus Ryan and Canadian James Uloth can't be more different from each other. Perhaps proving that nurture is after all more powerful than nature, at least they are each fairly representative of where they come from. Warm and easygoing, Ryan banters effortlessly about Edinburgh and the Fringe, long distance travel and his consistently prominent smile-induced dimple. Uloth by contrast is dour and somewhat miserable - his head constantly facing towards his navel, even when he attempts a rather bold flirtation with a female member of the audience - and his material seems to highlight a probably inadvertent urination theme. However, the combined double bill would probably cater for a nice variety of tastes in both humour and men, if only they would also change the unappealing title of their act. As it is, this is still probably one of the better comedy shows on the free festival circuit and definitely worth a hike through the Meadows to the breathtakingly antiquarian-looking Argyle. Duska Radosavljevic

Aeneas Faversham Forever Pleasance
It's a familiar Fringe genre - the small-cast mock melodrama that mixes camp send-up with the fun of quick costume changes, recalcitrant props and other gags that point at the silliness of it all. I have to say that this offering from the trio called The Penny Dreadfuls is not the best of the type I've ever seen, but it may well be the best available this year. All the right elements are there - a cod Victorian plot involving a sinister secret cult with designs on Tower Bridge, a hero who doesn't seem able to avoid killing innocent bystanders, an exploding horse, bad puns, absurd characters, funny shadow puppets and an uncooperative fake moustache. But I can't help wanting more. It's all a bit too leisurely when the genre demands high speed, not quite over-the-top enough when excess is of the essence, not quite self-referential enough when the screw-ups are part of the joke. You'll laugh a lot, but not so much that you barely have time to breathe, and that's the standard by which this genre is measured. Gerald Berkowitz

All Dressed Up to Go Dreaming C soco
Only eight audience members can be fitted into the meticulously arranged world of this play. Set in a cellar, the show is nonetheless fitted with all the accoutrements of a refined gentleman's library, displays of roses and oranges included. Our hero, played with exquisite poise by Arlo Hill, is similarly kitted out in a top hat, white tie and tails, having just arrived from a night out at the opera. Regaling us with his boundlessly erudite set of cultural references ranging from Socrates and Shaw to Sinatra, the Minister slowly and gradually begins to reveal a somewhat bedraggled secret life, helplessly ridden with base instincts. I am guessing that what A.M. MacEachern's highly literary 30 minute script is trying to achieve is a conceptual study of an evident possibility of an intricate intertwining between civilisation and violence in a single entity. Coming so soon after the internationally significant arrest of a poet and psychiatrist turned war criminal posing as a new age guru, this might indeed be a timely exploration. A more explicit narrative and theatrical engagement with the audience, however small, would help to clarify this, and I certainly hope that the next draft of this play comes closer to it. Duska Radosavljevic

Alpha Males Pleasance
Almost uninterruptedly hilarious, Adam Riches' gallery of macho men of every stripe fills the hour with laughs and a range of comic styles from the laid-back to the in-your-face. From the big game hunter who doesn't lose his cool even as he's getting lost in his own syntax and in jokes that seem to be going in one direction until they suddenly take surprising turns, through the super-macho cop dismissive of everyone else with the gall to claim a Y-chromosome, Riches' characters are all funny in themselves while also scoring points as satire and caricature. Other highlights in the fast-moving show are the past-midnight TV quiz host hanging on in the face of phone-in derision, the superannuated ex-boy band member who just won't give up, and the Aussie sex expert willing to pair off any random male and female in the audience though of course he could easily have either of them. Even the costume changes are funny in this show that other comics should avoid lest it lead them to quit in despair of ever being this good. Gerald Berkowitz

The 'American', the Coloured and Me Counting House
Largely designed to showcase the individual talents of the three performers it brings together, it can be easily imagined that this show set in an Edinburgh bar might indeed have been conceived on a similar drinking occasion. A white and a coloured South African are joined by an arrogant Canadian who tries to make sense of their political legacies. In the meantime, they drink, sing, dance, perform stand-up routines at an open mic competition, reminisce, recreate dream sequences and share nostalgic memories of culinary delicacies from home. Although Michelle and Jay van Rensburg's script features some nice characterisations and interesting observations, structurally it is a mixed bag difficult to grasp in terms of conventional dramatic storytelling, which makes this piece a good candidate for professional dramaturgical intervention. Michelle van Rensburg also appears as attractive South African Vanessa alongside Cape Malay Ferial Puren, whose singing and song-writing talent is truly outstanding, and the evidently multi-talented Canadian Jennifer Larkin. And this is definitely much more than can be said about a lot of the ticketed shows at the Fringe. Duska Radosavljevic

And on Your Left... Ruth Bratt Pleasance Dome
We are on a tour around Edinburgh being introduced to the city by Kimberly, recently dumped by a boyfriend who is now performing at the Fringe. By the end of our tour, we will have met an array of characters ranging from Russian waitress Nikita and an American tourist on a Princess Diana pilgrimage, to a miserable children's entertainer in a ridiculous costume. By then, judging by the voice-over reports designed to cover costume changes, Kimberley will have turned into a fully fledged bunny-boiler. Ruth Bratt has evidently put some thought into her sketch-show, but her creation, which bursts with originality and talent, seems only half-baked. Having opted for a rather clever framing device of a city tour, Bratt lets only some of her material take us around Edinburgh, while the rest seems to detour around London and its suburbs, without any plausible explanation for this change of scene. Her performance too, which has the residue of a once enjoyable act, seems technically accomplished but sometimes a bit lacklustre. Still, you may be able to catch her tour bus on a better day than I did. Duska Radosavljevic

The Angel and the Woodcutter Zoo Southside
Returning after the last year's successful run at the Fringe, the Korean company Cho-In offers another opportunity for this immensely powerful piece of theatre to be seen. Drawing its origins from an ancient Korean folk tale about an angel who is discovered bathing in a stream by a woodcutter and his meddlesome mother. In Park Chung-euy's retelling, featuring traditional and contemporary dance, mime, puppetry and masks, of this simple fairy-tale with elements of domestic drama evolves into an anti-war political parable of epic proportions which is reminiscent of Brechtian theatre at its best. Chung-euy spares no time or resources to paint a poignant and deeply human picture of the horrors of war and their devastating effect on family life. Often humorous and earthy and sometimes even mundane, this piece of highly accomplished physical theatre is guaranteed to get through to anyone regardless of age, nationality or even stylistic preference. Do make sure to see it this time around as opportunities for such refreshingly good theatre are extremely rare. Duska Radosavljevic

Another Kind of Silence Hill Street
Employing what is essentially the standard and-then-I-wrote structure of such shows, Liz Rothschild's portrayal of Rachel Carson is more successful than many in evoking the personality and spirit of her subject. The scientist-writer, best known for her 1962 book Silent Spring, about the dangers of pesticides and other chemicals to nature and eventually human health, did not have a dramatic life. She lived and worked quietly for 55 years, wrote that very influential book, and died soon after. So, without much of a story line, writer-performer Rothschild devotes herself to communicating Carson's personality, especially her deep love of nature and her conviction that her message to the world was of immense and immediate importance. She is so successful at creating a believable Carson that she can repeatedly let the character step out of chronology to comment on 21st-century ecological crises without destroying the illusion. This is a modest piece, perhaps more suited to the school auditorium or WI meeting than a theatrical setting. But it is a strong evocation of a voice as timely today as a half-century ago.
Gerald Berkowitz

Another Paradise clubWEST
Sayan Kent's play is part black comedy, part dystopian political tract, and its two strands sometimes sit uncomfortably alongside each other. Set in a near future when national databases, biometric identity cards, iris scanners and the like are ubiquitous, the play suggests that when you are who the files say you are, then you yourself may be redundant. A character whose identity is stolen becomes nobody, while a man whose card says he is a woman is treated as a woman by everyone despite the evidence before them. Those without cards are literally sent to Coventry, the only place still with a cash economy, and rebellious hackers who break into the system not only threaten to bring the whole country to a halt but question everyone's sense of who they are. Like many thesis plays, this one makes its point pretty quickly and then can find nothing to do but make it again and again, but the comedy of characters caught between the cracks in the system carries the hour. Chand Martinez as the man who has to adjust to officially being a woman, and Sakuntala Ramanee as the woman who discovers the freedom of being nobody lead a cast directed by Janet Steel to play the humour more comfortably than the politics. Gerald Berkowitz

Apes Like Me C Soco
Sporting the demeanour of a likeable school teacher, Kate Smurthwaite chats her audience into the auditorium as a means of stealthily determining their demographic spread, and then proceeds with conducting a cunning geek test, disguised as a joke. Geekiness is indeed the key ingredient of Smurthwaite's show, which for the most part consists of biology class material, although she will briefly examine the etymology of various synonyms for vagina, while also dutifully counting her carefully spread out 'bad puns' and distributing stickers to audience members on the basis of their closest likeness to particular species of primates. There is fun to be had in this hour of harmless banter, intelligent design and some really good arguments for the evolutionist vs. creationist debate, and above all it makes for a placid, pleasant and relaxed comedy show. Rather than showing any urgency to make you laugh or potential stress at not doing so, Smurthwaite is happy to send you home simply enlightened - even if that only boils down to what kind of an ape you are. Duska Radosavljevic

Architecting Traverse
Subtitled Part One to suggest that its collaborative development may still not be complete, this co-production of the National Theatre of Scotland and the American company The TEAM is a fluid, inventive and perhaps overfull meditation on America's past and its uneasy relationship with the conflicting impulses to embrace and erase it. In a New Orleans roadhouse reality is shared by the living, the ghost of Margaret Mitchell, the characters from Gone With The Wind, and Henry Adams, the nineteenth-century historian paradoxically enamoured of both medieval cathedrals and the vision of America's future. Add to them an architect planning to replace hurricane ruins with a 'new traditional' suburb designed to recreate feelings of the past and a film producer planning an updated remake of GWTW, and the play has rich material for exploring myth, history and the fantasy of progress. Mitchell envies Adams his historian's objectivity, but he had to repress his imagination and humanity to find it, and simply omitted twenty uncomfortable years from his famous autobiography. The film producer considers Mitchell a racist and tries to erase all images of slavery from his film, but his African-American director actually responds to her myth-making power. Real-world characters find themselves drawn into the reality of the book, while Scarlett and the others respond to the twenty-first century. Under Rachel Chavkin's fluid direction this group-created work juggles its many levels of reality and points of reference remarkably well for about two-thirds of its length, drawing the audience in to its landscape and unforcedly raising its questions and issues. But then everything abruptly changes as most of the characters disappear, a new set of wholly realistic figures are introduced, and their stories, which deal with a trip to New Orleans which may have overtones of a quest for the past, are told in a wholly new stage vocabulary of film, dance and cartoonish satire. The play never really recovers from that loss of coherence, however interesting the new characters or beautiful the new stage pictures, and the points it was raising about America not being quite so eager to erase or rewrite its often messy past may be lost in the confusion. Gerald Berkowitz

Dan Atkinson - The Credit Crunch and other Biscuits Pleasance
Dishevelled, restless and occasionally snappy, Dan Atkinson combines the best of his idyllic Yorkshire heritage with the experience of being a newly-settled, struggling Londoner to tell us all about his financial and romantic concerns. He sports a no-nonsense demeanour, though his rapport with the audience is friendly and unusually engaging. Not only would he happily find a way of chatting to a cross-section of spectators, but he will even weave them into the underlying narrative of the show. Admittedly the latter will only become apparent following the curtain call applause, but it will certainly be worth the wait. The meantime, therefore, is filled with other forms of bonding and community building but without too much blood-curdling audience participation. Essentially, by the end of his act, Atkinson pretty much manages to talk his audience into a sense of shared experience. And even though age seems to be on his mind quite a bit in this show and he bears a few grudges about his friends getting older, generationally his humour is genuinely all-inclusive. Duska Radosavljevic

Baldanders Hill Street
Marcin Bikowski and Marcin Bartnikowski are the authors and performers of this puppetry show with a difference. Apparently inspired by Borges, Topor and Edgar Allan Poe, the duet have devised a five-act story in which multiple figures take it in turns to elaborate and expound on the notion of evil. None of it is in any way enlightening at any given point, and although accompanied by Anna Witochowska's atmospheric cello score, none of it is particularly pleasant either. Despite Kompania Doomsday's having many international awards to its name, it is difficult to see how these have been deserved beyond the basic level of professional technical accomplishment and originality. This is certainly not enough to sustain the audience's attention throughout the 70 minutes filled with gracefully attempted but largely incomprehensible storytelling in English - posing the possibility that the original Polish version might in fact have been more effective. Over the years we have seen and enjoyed plenty of atmospherically and visually stunning pieces of theatre from Eastern Europe without the benefit of the English translation, but this one - however accomplished - seems to fall well below the established standards. Duska Radosavljevic

Beautiful People Don't Travel Economy Sweet Teviot
Melbourne-based drag comic and former flight attendant Robert Yule dons his girdle and wig to present the flight hostess from hell - or, rather, from sleezyJet Airlines, and no one is safe. While many comics pick on people in the front row, this big-busted, huge-hipped trolley dolly roams the aisles dispensing insults, love advice and cheap wine with abandon, in between giving her version of the usual announcements ('Place small children under the seat in front of you.') Yule's humour could never be accused of being subtle, and much of it is standard drag stuff, but he comes at you with such unrelenting energy that the best thing to do is submit and enjoy yourself. It's bawdy, of course - there's a very funny ad for specialised kneepads - and Yule stretches what is basically a single joke a bit longer than it can handle, so his switching wigs to play Russian and Black stewardesses doesn't really add much. But you'll laugh a lot, and might even be one of the lucky ones to have a bag of crisps tossed your way. Gerald Berkowitz

The Bee Underbelly
Matt Hartley's exquisite little gem of a play captures with delicacy and understanding both the essence of adolescent loneliness and at least one sort of thinking that could make suicide seem a reasonable option - and, remarkably, in an hour that it at least as uplifting and frequently comic as it is sad. Rebecca Whitehead plays a teenager who just can't get in step with a world in which things like how many Facebook 'friends' you have is a measure of your worth. When her beloved brother dies in an accident, she finds her pain being usurped by others in her small town, who set up a memorial website and rush to claim some connection to him that earns them a piece of the grief. It is through coming to recognise how empty their lives are and how desperately they need this spurious attachment to something real that she finds some meaning in her brother's death and some comfort for her private pain. And that in turn leads her to think about a way she can give something to the community. Whitehead movingly captures every step in the girl's emotional journey, drawing and holding our sympathy even as we dread the direction her thoughts are taking her. Sarah Sweeney registers as well by finding all the pathos in a seemingly shallow and airheaded schoolmate. Gerald Berkowitz

David Benson Sings Noel Coward Assembly
Like it says on the label. David Benson, Fringe veteran best known for his solo shows incorporating music into his monologues and for playing Noel Coward in several episodes of the TV series Goodnight Sweetheart, offers a straightforward (no pun intended) concert of some of the Master's best- and least-known songs, from Parisian Pierrot and I Am No Good At Love to the inevitable (and no less welcome for that) Mad Dogs And Englishmen and I'll See You Again. This is Benson singing Coward, not Benson as Coward - a few brief moments aside, he doesn't try to imitate Coward's voice or singing style. But Benson has a pleasant voice and the absolutely essential precise diction, and as an actor-who-sings he brings out all the wit and sentiment in the wide range of Coward's songs. By-play with his pianist Stewart Nicholls sometimes gets a bit arch and strays into Kit and the Widow territory. But anyone who loves the songs or needs an introduction to Coward the songwriter will find a thoroughly satisfying and enjoyable hour. Gerald Berkowitz

Beth Becomes Her Baby Belly
Gok Wan, Marylin Manson and Harry Potter could all be seen to bear resemblance to Bethany Black, as she will very helpfully profess herself, though not without some irony. However, any possible grounds for comparison with any familiar pop culture icon becomes very difficult once Black reveals the rather unique subject matter of her show - the predicament of being a 5'10" lesbian goth, although born as a boy - and the way she got there. It is the deliberately glossed over bits of medical detail concerning the difference between sexuality and gender and the actual technicalities of the sex operation that betray her sparkling intelligence which she skilfully transforms into witty and somewhat cryptic punchlines. However, it is when she reveals that she has actually calculated how much money she has saved the tax payer by opting for a sex change rather than suicide that she wins over potential secret nerds among her audience. With such a successful combination of good story and gifted delivery, I doubt that her show really needs a sentimental message which she works into the ending, although it does remind us that we are in the territory of raw life material, rather than the everyday malaise informing most of the other comedy on the circuit. Duska Radosavljevic

Boys of the Empire C venue
Glenn Chandler's play is a Ripping Yarns spoof set in a 1920s boys' school, with the lads foiling some dastardly evil foreigners between lessons, games and the first stirrings of sexuality. Its witty highlights include the frequent interruptions by the editor of the imagined boys'-own magazine for his manly letter to readers, along with the magazine's ads for body-building courses and the like, and the inevitable slips into innocent homosexual-tinged double entendre or suspicious-looking poses by all the characters. Somewhat weaker are the attempts at contemporary resonances in building the plot around the 1920s British occupation of Iraq and a performance mode that wavers between woodenness and striving too hard to be camp, with everyone prancing on and off stage. Too many potentially effective gags are spoiled by being overdone, like the one boy a bit too eager to be caned, or punched too heavily, rather than letting the jokes sneak up on us. Director Patrick Wilde and his hard-working cast too rarely hit the right parodic note, and the overall effect is of the material for a tight and sharply comic half-hour stretched to a too-often flaccid three times that length. Gerald Berkowitz

Breathing Corpses Sweet Grassmarket
LS6 are a group of students from Leeds. In their publicity they are completely honest about their credentials - this is their first production together and presumably their first time at the Fringe. They rise to their chosen task responsibly and to the best of their different levels of ability, and they have made one crucial wise decision in their process - they have chosen a good play, and they have chosen it well. Laura Wade's multi-award winning play about love and death has enough thematic focus and clarity for this young company to tackle without any undue effort, while the episodic nature of the Memento-style psychological thriller creates opportunities for short, contained character studies and performance vignettes. Nathaniel James playing two very different characters - Ray and Ben - gets to showcase his versatility, while the rest of the cast all retain enough scope to pursue small but manageable dramatic arcs. Their use of space and scenery could have been more inspired, but certainly they are here to learn and let's hope they are able to build further on this year's evidently well learnt lessons. Duska Radosavljevic

Bully Gilded Balloon
The title of Richard Fry's monologue is misleading, since the character he plays is not a bully, but rather a man who spends his life in fear that he might become a bully, only to discover that he has become a victim instead. He tells of a childhood with a violent and abusive father, and the conviction that textbook psychology requires history to repeat itself, not realising that it was equally possible that he might replicate his mother's role when he grew up, came out and found what seemed to be the man of his dreams. That dark twist, and its tragic results, come fairly late in the hour, much of which is devoted to the lighter memories of childhood happiness stolen from the shadow of the father and some of the more comic aspects of a young man's introduction to the gay scene. The whole is written in unobtrusive and frequently witty rhymed couplets, and indeed the whole tone of the hour is understated and unsensational, Fry's performance consisting of little more than sitting in a chair and telling the story, when more in the way of acting it out or investing it with emotion could have enriched it.
Gerald Berkowitz

Burtscher, Goldstein and Howell Phoenix
Perhaps typical of not-ready-for-the-big-time comedians playing in pubs around Edinburgh as part of the Free Fringe, Pat Burtscher, Brett Goldstein and Gerry Howell share an hour costing nothing more than a contribution to the hat passed at the end. Gerry Howell's mode appears to be to meander aimlessly through his thoughts in hopes of stumbling upon something funny, generally unsuccessfully. He seems to realise this, though, and gets off quickly. Pat Burtscher affects a glum and deadpan persona, directing his attention to life's losers - fat people, premature ejaculators, failed comedians - but with his hand frequently covering his mouth and his eyes fixed firmly on his shoes, he makes little connection with the audience. By default, then, Brett Goldstein is the most successful of the three. Though his set is rambling and scattershot, he does have actual jokes built on a nicely skewed sense of humour, imagining the British summer to be a Jeremy Beadle prank, describing contacts with the gas company as a troubled love affair, and offering an alternative image for James Bond. In all, though, the impression you carry away from this bit of Free Fringe is that you get what you pay for.
Gerald Berkowitz

By The Way Pleasance
In Noelle Renaude's play, here in a translation by Clare Finburgh, two blokes impulsively go on a road trip that winds up taking them nowhere. The mother of one and the mother-in-law of the other have just died, but that at first seems unrelated to their journey until it begins to take on a dreamlike quality, with road signs speaking to them and stimulating memories and flashbacks. It is perhaps not until we begin to notice that many of the people they meet have dead or dying mothers that we sense that the journey is as much metaphoric as real and that they are travelling not so much to the sea as to an acceptance of their grief. The problem is that I just made the play sound far more coherent and affecting than it is in practice, where the thematically relevant encounters are mixed in with others whose purpose is unclear. The two performers, Stavros Demetraki and Kevin O'Loughlin, are unable to do more than hint at their characters' psychology and buried emotions and, as they are not very good at doing different voices, have trouble establishing and distinguishing among the various other characters they play.
Gerald Berkowitz

Jason Byrne Cats Under Mats Having Chats With Bats Assembly Hall
Whatever Jason Byrne's show is meant to be about, one thing is certain - it will be different every night and it will always be ultimately about you. As has been proven many times before, here we have a true comedy talent - an excellent raconteur who is able to put his audience at ease by just being his wonderful frivolous self and a master of quicksilver wit. The night I saw the show happened to be a Sunday and he managed to discover and incorporate into his show a sixteen year old wannabe minister, whilst also matchmaking between two random audience members from Southampton and diffusing potential tension caused by a mysterious combustion in the auditorium - which incidentally provided a humorous trail concerning terrorism. He has plenty of wacky but easily recognisable material concerning his everyday family life which he will squeeze in in between the audience banter and the Irish dance finale, but you really must be there for the complete experience yourself. It will be worth every minute of the hour and every penny of the admission fee. Duska Radosavljevic

Simon Callow - A Festival Dickens Assembly
Continuing the theatrical association with Dickens that last saw him touring his solo show The Mystery of Charles Dickens, Simon Callow now offers a programme of two short stories that Dickens himself frequently performed in his second career as a reader of his own works. Both pieces display the signature Dickensian mix of broad comedy, uninhibited sentimentality and colourful characters, and thus make an ideal showcase for Callow's own larger-than-life style. 'Mr Chops - the Dwarf' is the account, told by a circus owner, of one of his star acts who won the lottery and entered society, only to find the high life much less attractive than it seemed from the outside. 'Dr Marigold' is the monologue of a pedlar whose adventures include the deaths of his wife and daughter, the adoption of a deaf-mute girl, and the bittersweet experience of watching her grow up, fall in love, and begin a life of her own. The package therefore touches all the Dickensian buttons by including three deaths, two tearful reunions, lots of light comedy and a collection of secondary characters ranging from con men to a lugubrious giant. Unlike Dickens, who read his works at a lectern, Callow dons appropriate costumes and wigs and roams the stage, acting out the scenes he describes and pulling all the comedy and pathos from them. A week into his Edinburgh run, he seemed still unsure of his lines, with frequent fumblings and ad lib vamping until he recovered his place. His control over his chosen accents and character voices was particularly unsteady, as he repeatedly moved in and out of character, finally giving up midway through the second piece and finishing it in his own voice. This programme has the potential for being another hit for Callow, but with a running time almost half again as long as announced, it will need further rehearsal and tightening up after its Edinburgh tryout.
Gerald Berkowitz

Cambridge Footlights Underbelly
The doldrums may be over in the university revue world. After several weak years, both Oxford (see our review) and Cambridge have come up with pretty good shows. I'd rank Oxford's higher (and Durham University's even higher), but Footlights is a good hour of laughs. There isn't much in the way of erudition or high wit, but the whole is suffused with an attractive sense of the absurd and incongruous, the best sketches going off in directions you didn't anticipate. Highlights are an Improv-for-schools troupe that forces every suggestion into their prepared moral lessons, a cliche-filled business meeting, a nervous speed-dater, competing parents on games day and a Woody Allen-ish lonely guy monologue. The four guys and one girl may not have the next Cleese or Fry among them, but right now they're among the funniest companies in Edinburgh. Gerald Berkowitz

Caruso and the Quake Pleasance
Enrico Caruso didn't really want to be in San Francisco on that national tour in 1905 anyway, and waking up to find the hotel room collapsing around him didn't improve his mood. Andrew G. Marshall's text takes the tenor on a triple journey, through the ruined city as he and others try to escape, through memory that fills in his back story, and from an egocentricity that makes him more concerned for his precious costumes than for the suffering around him to an awareness of and empathy for his fellow victims. It is that last thread, nicely punctuated by episodes that have Caruso first singing to establish himself as a VIP and later to attract a crowd's attention to a lost child, that makes the monologue more than a standard and-then-I-sang autobiography, and more of an actual play, with a character we can come to respect and feel for. But a weakness of both the script and Miranda Henderson's direction is that Caruso's internal growth doesn't become evident until very late in the hour. As Caruso, Ignacio Jarquin projects too little of the star's magnetism or ego, even in a small Fringe room, and this piece would likely struggle to hold audiences in any larger space. Gerald Berkowitz

Charlie Victor Romeo Underbelly Pasture
Taking its title from the initials of Cockpit Voice Recorder, the infamous 'black box' that survives airplane crashes, this group-created piece takes verbatim theatre in a direction no one had previously dared, by staging the final moments of six airline accidents, all but one of them catastrophic. A cast of seven rotate in the small cockpit set as projections identify each plane and introduce us to the moments before something goes wrong. Despite a mounting body count, the surprising effect is a reassuring one. While in a couple of cases the crews have no time at all to react to the emergency, when they do, we watch them generally responding with admirable courage and ingenuity. The one exception is a 1996 Peruvian plane whose crew are so dependant on the onboard computers that they resist taking manual control when the systems fail, instead frantically searching through the instruction book for help. In contrast, the pilots of a 1985 Japan Air Lines plane and of a 1989 United flight prove extraordinarily valiant and ingenious in finding ways around the equipment's failures, in the one case unsuccessfully, in the other managing to fly a plane with virtually no working controls. With suspense and tension built into the situations, directors and actors successfully convey both the stress and the professionalism of their briefly sketched-in characters. Gerald Berkowitz

Circus Oz - 30th Birthday Bash Assembly Hall
When a circus company is celebrating its thirtieth birthday you know you must be in for a treat. All those years of successful repertoire must hold a few gems of tried and tested audience-pleasing routines, while the ageing trapeze ladies get to showcase all their dazzling career highlights. With Circus Oz, however, you can ditch all such expectations. To prove that they are still young at heart, they will make a point of subverting every existing circus convention and putting an original spin on every familiar technique. Thus you will be served up such delights as a clowning routine on roller-blades, a lion tamer in a hula hoop, and a bricklaying juggling act (builder's bum included). I'll let you meet Eric - the talking dog with a penchant for stand up comedy - yourself. And of course none of it is finished until a pack of kangaroos has performed their somersaulting finale. However it is the very final image of this show that really encapsulates Circus Oz's attitude to their big day - their sprightliest, cheekiest, youngest member entangled with the grandfather of the troupe in a bubble gum prank gone wrong. Roll on decade four! Duska Radosavljevic

Class Enemy Lyceum Theatre
Nigel Williams's play about the state of education for the working classes, whose original premiere took place a year before Margaret Thatcher's ascent to power, is thirty years old this year. In what may essentially seem like a Brixton take on Waiting for Godot, a group of disaffected teenagers, left to their own devices, are trying to pass the time by giving each other lessons, and in the process reveal their fears and desires, pent up anger and often desperately bleak outlooks on life. In his adaptation of the play set in post-war Sarajevo, veteran Bosnian theatre director Haris Pasovic sets out to tap into the zeitgaist and particularly the predicament of Bosnia's newer generations. Harnessing the energy of his youthful ensemble, two of whom are in fact rappers of politically controversial repute, Pasovic's production is intended as a statement rather than an homage. In an anticipation of the potential outcomes of the play's cultural refraction, a British audience may easily miss the allegorical layers of the piece which are more linked with the play's underlying concept of a forsaken people than the notion of cultural or individual character nuance. In other words, even though concerned with education as one of its themes, this version of the play is by no means intended to be didactic. It simply shows how the hopelessness, frustration, poverty and helplessness responsible for the country's slide into the war in the first place is far from being overcome. Duska Radosavljevic

Nina Conti Pleasance
I really feel for Nina Conti. She is a very talented comic ventriloquist who built her act on the incongruity of a prim and embarrassed girl with a foul-mouthed monkey puppet. She's so good that Monk sometimes seems to be ad libbing and catching her by surprise. But, understandably, she's been trying to move beyond variations on the same basic joke, with little success. Last year's show introduced new dummies and new voices, but none really worked. Her new show is all about breaking with Monk, and it actually backfires, exposing her limitations and making her look weaker than she is. Much of it, like giving Monk a Nina dummy or hypnotising her to release her inner Monk, just doesn't work. And bringing in a puppet of her father Tom Conti is a big mistake, because he sounds just like Monk and not like the actor at all. An American vent named Terry Fader has recently raised the bar enormously with dummies that sound like famous singers or actors. Nina can't even get her own father's voice right. (Even worse, the Nina puppet doesn't sound like Nina) And when the show imagines their careers after separation and Nina ends up a pole dancer with talking breasts, you can only feel embarrassed for her. So the show just proves what it was designed to disprove, that Monk is the star of the act, and Nina still hasn't found a way to move beyond him. Gerald Berkowitz

Hal Cruttenden - Climbing Every Molehill Assembly
One of the secrets of all good art is that it manages to capture or articulate something that appears perfectly obvious to the audience, but in a way that no one else has done it before. That is exactly where Hal Cruttenden taps into the art of stand-up comedy. Unlike most star comedians, he is amiable, polite and seemingly uninterested in his own sex appeal or in the subjects of sex, drinking and football. In fact, he is a self-confessed member of the middle class, 'slightly political' and 'slightly religious' (the latter is tongue-in-cheek but you'd better hear the delightful explanatory punchline for yourselves). And in the process of climbing the molehills and mountains of his everyday fears, he imparts some really exciting views on wedding rituals, the Olympics and the codes of conduct of various tradespeople. Certainly not your typical comedian - and this is where he wins hands down over most others. Instead of relying on tired, old cliches for his humour, he actively sets out to attack and dismantle them, thus opening up those obvious new ways of seeing the world. Immensely satisfying. Duska Radosavljevic

Cure Baby Belly
Struck Dumb is a collective of young writers, directors and actors who combine some mainstream professional theatre and TV experience with an undying enthusiasm for comic-book style storytelling and fast paced theatre. The result is a slick and engaging satirical farce with elements of Hollywood thriller about a mildly futuristic society which has found a secret cure for cancer - in cannibalism. Despite a slightly ludicrous plot - which gets even worse towards the end, but without ever losing its grip over the audience - the piece manages to pull off a very high standard of theatricality on an extremely low budget. The choice of venue - the Baby Belly caves - is put to good use, as are also the quintet's costumes, while the very few props involve a sword, a mobile phone and an apple. Beautifully lit and played with great gusto, Cure is above all a wonderful example of just how much can be achieved through talent, good vision and will power alone. Still, this doesn't mean that someone should not give them some sponsorship pretty soon. Duska Radosavljevic

Dad's Money Pleasance Dome
Richard Marsh has an unusual sense of humour. In his play about sibling rivalry, at one particularly charged point one brother attempts to insult the other with the line: 'You look like a paedophile with two dicks and three daughters'. It's no wonder then that Marsh actually sets this entire hour of post-funeral bickering in a cellar somewhere and amid the last summer's floods. The brothers - reunited for the first time in years - are desperately looking for their father's piggy bank. There might be some potential in a dramatic situation of this kind, especially as the world of the play very quickly closes in on the protagonists from all directions - the trap-door gets accidentally shut and somehow covered by the piano, while the level of water slowly rises. But Marsh does not seem to be particularly interested in utilising the situation to search the depths, the pasts or any speculative futures of the two characters in these circumstances - he simply just lets them insult and annoy each other to death, while he pursues his own writerly punchline of revealing the whereabouts of the money. I guess this kind of humour might have a few willing customers, but unfortunately, I'm not one of them. Duska Radosavljevic

Dark Grumblings Underbelly
Very much the sort of thing I come to the Fringe for, this offering from Big Wow is fast-moving, inventive, hilarious and a showcase for its two very talented performers. File this under 'Two Guys Play Several Roles Each In A Silly And Very Funny Comedy.' In this case a couch potato idly surfing the TV channels, a Polish TV repairman with a mystical bent, two ill-matched security guards, a garrulous old lady and a couple of gangsters - all played, in various combinations, by Tim Lynskey and Matt Rutter - come up against the TV channel from hell, which is slowly spreading through their building like the unseen monster in a cheap horror movie. But the plot, what there is of it, is just the excuse for quick changes and very rapid patter between the actors, who keep up a rhythm of action and talk that is a master class in mutual support and ensemble playing. And did I mention that it's very funny? Much credit to dramaturge and director Robert Farquhar for keeping things spinning without letting them get out of the performers' admirably tight control. Forget the umpteenth student production of Macbeth - this is what the Fringe is all about. Gerald Berkowitz

The Darkling Plain Underbelly
Unsurprisingly, the Middle East wars are a recurring subject of new works at this year's Fringe, and Bea Roberts' play approaches the topic from a surprising and therefore surprisingly effective and evocative angle. On its surface, Roberts' play is a spoof of 1940s war movies, with caricatured stiff-upper-lip gentry sending their men off to be officers and colourfully cheeky working class families providing the enlisted men. The joke, which extends to spot-on parodies of wartime radio shows, is a delight throughout, with every cliche of the genre hit and lovingly satirised, as when a soul-searching inner monologue straight out of Brief Encounter is put in the mind of a soldier hardly recognising the nature of his feelings for a buddy. Only the fact that the war the men are off to is set in a desert rather than a European battlefield hints at a deeper purpose to the play, but it is enough to prepare us for the power of an ending that, while remaining true to the film formula, is particularly resonant in the modern context. Comedy is difficult, parody is difficult, establishing topical relevance without preaching is difficult, and Roberts and her admirable cast succeed at all of these in what is simultaneously one of the most enjoyable and most touching hours of the Fringe. Gerald Berkowitz

Deep Cut Traverse
Between 1995 and 2002 four soldiers in the British training base at Deepcut died from mysterious gunfire. Several inquiries by both the military and police concluded that all were suicides, and indeed there were a large number of failed suicide attempts there in the same period. But the various investigations and inquiries were all so badly handled that many questions and the suspicion of a cover-up remain. Philip Ralph's play is based on the experience of the parents of one of the four, Cheryl James. In the play, based on interviews with the Jameses and others, their love for their daughter, their grief at her death, and their difficulty accepting the idea of suicide are taken as givens - the play is really about their frustration and rage at the refusal of anyone to treat the case with objectivity and a search for truth. Certainly playwright Ralph, by including the words of those on the other side, does convey the sense that they grabbed at the suicide explanation as a way of closing the books rather than looking beyond it, and that the best that can be said of the official handling of the cases is that they were bungled. Ciaran McIntyre invests Mr. James with a solid dignity that never allows even the hint of irrationality or obsession, while Rhian Morgan as Mrs. James and Rhian Blythe as a young soldier very much like what their daughter might have been give solid support. Gerald Berkowitz

Rob Deering - Boobs Baby Belly
Rob Deering is not very funny, but he is clever. His hour of stand-up, which actually has very little to do with breasts (He admits that the title was just to allow for an eye-catching poster of his head on a voluptuous body), is at its weakest when he tries to tell jokes or funny stories. He does have a good line in song parodies, however, and a range of foot pedals that enable him to record loops, overdub and otherwise inventively enhance his singing and guitar playing. Turning a Johnny Cash standard into a paean to Edinburgh or a romantic song into a celebration of tortoises entertains an audience enough to carry Deering over tired material about how lads' magazines are sexist, girl band members are dim and rap lyrics can be unpleasant. By the time he brings an audience member onstage and, using his bank of electronic enhancements, makes her into a passable back-up drummer, he's won the house over and can send them out happily, not aware or caring that there wasn't one actual good joke in the hour.
Gerald Berkowitz

Diary of a Nobody C Venue
The key to Charles Pooter, George Grossmith's classic little man, is not dullness or pomposity, but his complete lack of self-awareness, and Clive Ward captures that essential innocence perfectly in this modest but delightful piece. Because Ward's all-but-faceless Victorian clerk has no idea when he is being dull or pompous, the failings become endearing, because he doesn't realise when others are insulting or patronising him, he can go through life with an almost unblemished happiness, and because he never censors himself, his moments of pure joy are deeply affecting. Wood catches all of this in a delightful comic characterisation, ably supported by Kirsty Bennett as ever-loving and only occasionally dubious Mrs. Pooter and by Timothy Muller at an atmosphere-setting piano. An inventive exploitation of a side note in the book that Mrs P used to enjoy amateur theatricals prompts the very funny device of having everyone else played by Bennett as Mrs. Pooter playing everyone else. There may be few belly laughs here, but lots of warm smiles and chuckles.
Gerald Berkowitz

Diet of Worms: Friends of the Puffincat Gilded Balloon
With a sketch show supposedly revolving around a 1979 Soviet cartoon character but featuring a variety of equally bizarre takes on Brit Pop, Steven Hawking and Tom Cruise, this five-strong comedy ensemble from Dublin could easily pass for Ireland's answer to Idiots of Ants. There is an easy flow to the show as a whole, aided by a good sense of rhythm and comic timing throughout, and their audience rapport is so good that they'll even pull off an attempt at a random egg cell insemination, and get away with it. Following that, getting the entire audience to read a part in a sketch in unison is a piece of cake. And of course they wouldn't be Irish if they didn't have a musical number or two to show for it. You'll have to wait all the way to the end for a rather delightful highlight of 'Miss Kate Nash's song about being a plaster' - but rest assured that it is well worth the wait. Duska Radosavljevic

Domestic Goddi Pleasance
Comedy double acts usually come together when the individual members somehow complement each other. Think Laurel and Hardy, or French and Saunders - not only are both partners visually easy to distinguish, but very often one is smarter than the other. To an extent Rosie Wilkinson and Helen O'Brien have got a handle on this principle too. One is tall and grumpy and the other is short and sweet. However, they seem to be at a point where they are still too nice to each other to be capitalising on their differences and establishing a clear power dynamic between themselves. They take it in turns to outwit each other and very often they just end up assuming the same comedy voice - as for example when they are firing witty one-liners at us as the 'nifty at fifty' compares Joan and Jean. One thing that really weakens their act is the tendency to milk each punchline to death or just over-exhaust a particular idea or a device. Certainly they seem to be brimming with ideas and potential, but a bit more tenacity, hard work and stamina would really improve their act further. Duska Radosavljevic

Nick Doody Pleasance
His show title, Tour of Doody, is not just an acceptable pun but also a hint at the contents, since this amiable and quick-thinking stand-up comic does not follow the current trend of building his whole act around a single theme, but rather meanders through his thoughts on a wide range of topics, from the professional calm of driving instructors to racism in Star Trek. As even that pair suggests, his mode is not so much to break new comic ground as to find new gold in previously mined material, and other familiar topics that he manages to make fresh include the English abroad, blokish behaviour and the names of death metal bands. Some themes do recur, and the hour gradually finds a focus of sorts around religion, names and teddy bears, separately or in unexpected combinations, beginning with his take on the story of the teacher who got in trouble by letting her class choose their bear's name and ending with a singalong to a particularly warped version of The Teddy Bears' Picnic. Though his method sometimes seems random and scattershot, Doody moves around fast enough and hits enough of his targets to make his hour more satisfying that some comics who have to devote much of their time to setting up an elaborate premise.
Gerald Berkowitz

Dragon Lady C Soco
Anna May Wong was the Chinese-American actress who was Hollywood's Oriental vamp of choice during the 1930s and 1940s but who, like many other film performers of the period, was typecast and limited by the studios' and public's perception of her. In her case, of course, there was a element of racism, which she felt from both sides, as the Chinese community criticised her for feeding prejudice in her stereotyped roles. Writer-actress Alice Lee presents some of this story in a depiction of Wong as a confused, alcoholic shell, unhappy with the limits on her career but pleased with the luxuries it has bought, proud of her few substantial roles but resentful at her restraints. It is particularly galling that she lost out the best-written Chinese role of her time, in The Good Earth, to an Austrian actress, Louise Rainer. Lee is more successful at showing us the wreck she imagines Wong as becoming than at capturing the dignity she frequently showed onscreen or the strength it must have taken her to rise and survive in Hollywood, and some audiences may have difficulties with Lee's accent, ironically much thicker than Wong's.
Gerald Berkowitz

A Drunk Woman Looks At The Thistle Assembly
Denise Mina's very free adaptation of Hugh MacDairmid's 1925 classic 'A Drunk Man...,' takes the same stance, of an assertively common and excluded voice expressing contempt for most establishment icons and attempts to define Scottishness. Mina's speaker is a downmarket urban hausfrau well into her bottle of flavoured gin, whose lips are loosened by the liquor and the awareness that nobody will listen to her anyway. So she is free to criticise and ridicule the posh and the politicians, the arty and the antiquarians. She fights to recapture the earthy Robbie Burns from the academics while dismissing the poseur Scott with disdain. She is as contemptuous of the imitation English as of those who cry for separatism with no idea of what to do next - all in a voice whose potentially vicious anger is muted by an irrepressible sense of the ridiculous and a healthy vulgarity. Stand-up comic Karen Dunbar plays the woman with high energy and a balance of outrage, humour and good sense. Quite deliberately, her accent is sometimes incomprehensible to non-Scots (This was true of MacDairmid's poem too), and she constantly risks going way over the top with a new gesture, pose or facial expression for every line. But the poem's and the performer's vulgar love of what they celebrate as true Scottishness generate a memorable and enjoyable hour. Gerald Berkowitz

The Durham Revue Underbelly
In recent years Durham has been the only non-Oxbridge university to continue to carry the flag for revue, and I am delighted to report that, even in a year when both Oxford and Cambridge delivered their best showing for a long time, Durham still outshines them both with an hour of genuinely clever and witty comedy. As I've written before, it is easy to come up with the idea for a sketch, but very much harder to produce two-to-five minutes of actual funniness based on the idea. Virtually every one of Durham's sketches scores, either by developing its premise in inventive ways, or by suddenly veering off premise into unexpected and delightful new territory. A twenty-year reunion of Mr. Men, the source of the Daily Mail's most scabrous headlines, strip Monopoly, unlikely superheroes, a radio drama gone amok - any of these ideas could have proven to be dry wells to less inventive minds, but every one is hilarious, and most have the added bonuses of throwaway lines or passing bits of business that are funny in themselves. Skip Oxbridge, do not pass Go, and move directly to Durham for a delightful hour of revue comedy. (And guys, if you quote me again in your ads and listings, get the attribution right.) Gerald Berkowitz

Britt Ekland - Britt on Britt Assembly
Perennial starlet and sequential wife and/or lover of the famous, the still-beautiful-at-65 Britt Ekland takes us through her life and loves in an hour marred only by a somewhat mechanical delivery and a meandering, disorganised structure. Ekland is clearly reciting a memorised script throughout, and is unable to make it sound natural, while the occasional fumbling for a line makes her seem to have forgotten her own life. She does drop as many names as you could wish, from husbands Peter Sellers and Rod Stewart through Frank Sinatra, Steve McQueen, Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Margaret and Cher, with Sellers coming out the worst. Ekland doesn't really have much to say about her career, remembering the pleasures of exotic locations more than the filming itself, and most of the images projected on the screen above her are domestic snapshots or glamour photos, though she does show the infamous nude scene from The Wicker Man and point out exactly where the body double replaces her. Near the end of her show she runs through a list of her almost 100 films, and once she gets past James Bond, Get Carter and The Wicker Man you won't have heard of any of them. And that's the ultimate impression Ekland's memoirs give, of a beautiful woman who hung out with - and frequently loved - lots of stars without really being one. Gerald Berkowitz

Everyone We Know C venue
Unspoken Agreement is a company of young artists who claim to be committed to innovation. In this show, which they have billed as a piece of dance/physical theatre, their two performers are mostly perched on and around seven TV sets using a camera to occasionally zoom in on their body parts or random audience members in between playing pre-recorded footage of a weight-loss diary or reciting poetry which culminates with lines such as 'I vomit rainbows' and 'I can set fire to houses with my toenails'. Admittedly, I am taking this out of context, but I am not even sure what the context of the piece is anyway. Sure, the Fringe exists for all sorts of experimentation and artistic conviction - and over the years we have repeatedly seen a lot of similar endeavours. However, a piece like this really raises the question of how people decide that something is deserving of an audience. What are the criteria they employ? What makes them think that anyone would care or want to pay the money to see what they've got to show? Answers in a new show, please. Duska Radosavljevic

Face in The Crowd Underbelly
You know that the boundaries of individual genres have well and truly been moved when there comes a show that is difficult to define in the existing terms. KUDOS, the company of twelve performers and two co-creators - producer Ben Clare and director Matthew Dye - have categorised their piece as physical theatre. And here is finally a generation which has inherited and internalised the DV8 theatre-making ethos and made it their own rather than merely just emulating the recognisable tropes. However, their piece is dramaturgically and narratively coherent in a way that is uncharacteristic of a lot of contemporary physical theatre and dance. Each of the twelve members of the titular faceless 'crowd' have a journey that is clear and easily readable by the audience without any abstraction or ambiguity. In addition, a series of easily recognisable situations from London's everyday life - underground trains, streets, offices, gyms, bars and nightclubs - forms a single day cycle and is recreated in astute and highly evocative detail with an excellent sense of originality and humour. All of this definitely makes KUDOS a crowd to watch. Duska Radosavljevic

The Factory Pleasance
If ever there was a show with its heart in the right place but its brain out of joint, this is it. Steve Lambert's Badac Company has attempted to re-create the experience of being a Jewish prisoner at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The message of telling the world is absolutely right, and as the inmates stand in the gas chamber defiantly singing a song that is now the national anthem of Israel - a land they would never see - one begins to feel the terror and sadness of the millions lost in the Holocaust. However, for far too much of the hour-long Concentration Camp Experience, the team works too hard to shock in ways that fail to convince. While their lines lack fluency, you cannot fault the commitment and effort of these actors who will have put on a lot of muscle by the end of the run. They bang metal plates for an age and then repeatedly shout expletive-littered orders until they cease to have any meaning. An inevitable problem is that though you follow and mingle with the inmates, there has of necessity to be a distinction between those who will move on to the next show and those cremated and lost forever. This is a noble idea and even with its limitations, the final message of remembering the Holocaust and enabling others to do so in order to stop it happening again is as important today as ever. Philip Fisher

Fall Traverse
Political theatre, or any sort of thesis-driven drama, is very difficult to pull off, the inherent danger being the failure to clothe the ideas and arguments in living and sympathetic human characters. It is very clear what Zinnie Harris's play is about and what she thinks about it, but it is much harder to believe in or care about the people she has created to embody or express them. In a country whose oppressive regime has just been overthrown, members and functionaries of the old government are being tried and executed. The shaky new government chooses a woman of the people to be the ultimate judge, but both she and the weak new President begin to question the morality of justice based on vengeance, with tragic results. Yes, the author agrees with them, but all the efforts of director Dominic Hill and a cast led by Geraldine Alexander and Darrell D'Silva can't make any of these characters seem real or inspire us to care about them. And purely domestic elements like the President's marital problems or the woman's discovery that her late husband was one of the criminals seem awkwardly grafted on to a play whose head and heart are somewhere else. Gerald Berkowitz

Finished With Engines Traverse
Alan McKendrick's two-hander comes from Glasgow's Arches Theatre, with actors - Stephanie Viola and Drew Friedman - from New York's Riot Group, and it has the air of political thesis and intense psychological drama characteristic of both. In a series of short scenes we watch two sailors at an offshore observation station while away the hours and days as a barbaric civil war goes on in the unnamed country they're watching and their superiors back home make up their minds whether to just nuke them all into submission. So there are three central threads to the play - the way familiarity has led to the sailors' nonchalance about the atrocities they watch onshore, the way boredom and inactivity inevitably generate a sort of madness, and the dangers of getting what you wish for. The play evidently thinks itself more of a black comedy than it is, with only one scene, in which they try to one-up each other in tales of misery, generating any humour. Instead, for most of it McKendrick, serving as his own director, does not really conquer the challenge of depicting boredom without being boring, but at just one hour the play doesn't outstay its welcome or dissipate its energies. Gerald Berkowitz

Tim Fitzhigham - The Bard's Fool Pleasance
Tim Fitzhigham is one of those comics who spends part of the year doing something bizarre and then builds a show around it. In the past he's rowed across the English Channel and marched through Don Quixote country in full armour. (These are generally sponsored charity challenges, so he does some good as well as collecting comic material.) This year he was inspired by the Elizabethan actor Will Kemp's feat of morris dancing from London to Norwich and set off to duplicate the adventure. Some may remember that Chris Goode did a show based on this premise a few years ago, but I always suspected that Goode's journey was fictional, while Fitzhigham has the video evidence of himself, in full morris gear, prancing and then struggling his way along. Along the way he encounters hecklers, incredulous police, over-hospitable hosts, and the Lord Mayors of several towns, all on display and all described with the wild-eyed enthusiasm that is Tim's natural mode. What keeps this from being just plain weird is that Tim is an excellent storyteller, well aware of how mad he is, but equally insightful about the absurdities he encounters. Gerald Berkowitz

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

Funk It Up About Nothin' George Square
The Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and the writing brothers known only as GQ and JQ, who created the hilarious Bomb-itty of Errors a few seasons back by setting Shakespeare's words to a DJ's beat, now filter Much Ado About Nothing through that same lens of hip-hop and rap, with equally delightful results that only the most humourless pedant could resist. Recognising that there is in fact a close similarity between Shakespeare's verse and the rhyme and rhythm schemes of rap, the writers are able to incorporate whole chunks of the original dialogue alongside their updated (and, it must be said, appropriately earthy) language, adding to the fun. In this version Benedick is a member of Don Pedro's rap crew returning from a successful tour, Beatrice is a big mama full of attitude, Hero is the complete airhead you always suspected she was, the watch are as camp as they are confused, and everybody gets down to the beat of an onstage DJ, so that it makes perfect sense, for example, for Benedick and Beatrice to spar through the rhyming braggadocio and put-downs of rap. The two central plots, of tricking the antagonists into falling in love, and of convincing the rather dim Claudio that Hero is an unfit bride, translate nicely into modern terms, while adding to the general air of unpretentious fun are the quick changes and transparency of the fact that the cast of six all double and redouble roles. Postell Pringle's manly Don Pedro is replaced as necessary by a Verges who got his image of a policeman from the Village People, while Jackson Doran's appropriately out of his depth white-boy-rapper Claudio gives way to a rip-roaring judge, and co-author and co-director GQ switches back and forth between grumbling roadie Don John, retired DJ Leonato and wild west sheriff Dingleberry. Co-creator JQ's Benedick and Ericka Ratcliff's MC Lady B naturally dominate things, but scene after scene is stolen by Stephanie Kim's delightfully dim Hero and especially GQ's spirited Leonato. The rhymes are funny, the characterisations are funny, and the whole thing is remarkably true to the spirit of the original. Gerald Berkowitz

Ginger and Black Pleasance Dome
Their name might sound like an expensive brand of chocolate, but the moment you step into their show you'll know that 'sweet' is the last word Ginger and Black will let anywhere near them. In fact, rather refreshingly, they furrow their brows and keep scowling all the way through the show, while rendering deadpan one-liners and bold choruses of their songs. No danger of being cheered on or required to laugh and clap in this show - though laugh and clap you will, of course. Multi-talented Eri ('the ginger half') carries the show through a series of seamless guitar numbers, while dashing Daniel ('the black half') punctuates those with occasional poetry and prose - but mostly they sing together or just finish each other's sentences. Though the show culminates in their tongue-in-cheek attempt to sell themselves as a - potentially lethal - children's entertainment act, I'm sure they'd be a hit with grumpy teenagers the world over. In any case, however, they are a true delicacy of the musical comedy circuit and to be savoured after dinner in small pieces. Duska Radosavljevic

Global Warming is Gay C venue
The hero of this story of social aspiration is Andy, a 'handsome man' caught between two lovely ladies and his brother, the gay and green MSP Graham Orbison. In order to win his brother's approval, Andy recruits his new girlfriend's family resources as a means to convert their home into a carbon-free paradise. It is not long before living coat-stands, organic furniture and bicycle-powered turbines enter their natural habitat and matters of 'planetary significance' take precedence over all mundane issues concerning quality of interpersonal relationships. Iain Heggie's script is great fun, being peopled with engaging characters and peppered with juicy one-liners. It is only the awkward exits and entrances that betray this play's origins as Ostrovskian satirical farce. But at least the narrative gains a spring in its step as a result of this heritage, and Heggie's interventions, bringing the narrative into present day Scotland, are positively inspired. Its central themes of personal and political hypocrisy are also effectively adapted from the play's distant originator, thus serving to both revive an interest in the classic and introduce a brand new manifestation of some age-old concerns. Duska Radosavljevic

Stefan Golaszewski Speaks About a Girl He Once Loved Pleasance
This might have been an unlikely winner of a coveted first week Fringe First, but it fully deserves the award. In many ways, Stefan Golaszewski's strength is in his carefully cultivated artlessness. Again and again, he deliberately chooses the wrong word or phrase, often accompanied by a pause for the realistic effect to sink in. This gives his tale a true feel of lived experience. The story is simple enough. The 18-year-old Golaszewski is having a night out with his pals and the intensely dislikeable Jenna-Louise when a perfect 10 comes into the pub. He sidles up and, after seducing her with a pack of pork scratchings, they embark on a speeded up love affair that lasts no more than 24 hours. The writer/performer's strength is in persuading his audience that every word that he says and every action that he describes actually happened. This is a rarer talent than one would imagine, as is proved far too often by pale imitations throughout Edinburgh. By the end, you really care about the fate of this insecure youngster and the lovely Betty. Indeed, it is just a pity that she was indisposed, as every man present would love to meet such a rare and charming beauty. Stefan Golaszewski Speaks About a Girl He Once Loved may not have the snappiest title in town but it is amongst this year's highlights. Philip Fisher

Ha Ha Hamlet Gilded Balloon
A trio of experienced street performers bring their act indoors in this fast-moving potted version of Hamlet. Of course the idea isn't new - among other precedents are Tom Stoppard's Ten-Minute Hamlet and the long-running Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged - and some of the gags are predictable. Lines are going to be mangled or misapplied, much is going to be made of the guy in a wig playing Ophelia, and the climactic duel is going to turn into slapstick. And indeed those things appear on cue. But there are enough new twists to satisfy most, like turning the players into Julian and Sandy, doing Ophelia's mad scene as an escape from a straitjacket or sprinkling the text with dreadful puns (What's afoot? Twelve inches.). The street theatre roots are evident in requiring the audience to contribute some sound effects, though more of that sort of involvement would have been welcome. It may be the switch to a stage and the need to fill an hour, but the whole seems a bit too leisurely and not laugh-a-second enough to hold an outdoor audience, and those who have paid to see what others got for free might find it a bit thin. Gerald Berkowitz

Happy Savages Underbelly
Ryan Craig's play of romantic and sexual entanglements is conceived and advertised as a dark comedy. But the comic elements are far too few, and what is intended as irony turns into mere soap opera. We meet two young couples, each unhappy enough in vaguely undefined ways that one husband and the other wife have a one-night affair and then foolishly confess it. Both couples break up and reform with switched partners, only to discover that they're all even more unhappy in the new configuration. There are a few mild laughs along the way, usually in such askew but believable lines as 'It's only since I was unfaithful that I've stopped trusting him.' But the general tone is bleak and the narrative melodramatic. A bit of jumping around in time - for example, flashing back to the innocent first meetings after we've seen the later wreckage - seems a strained imitation of Pinter's Betrayal and an unsuccessful attempt to underline obvious ironies. The four actors struggle not to fall into stock characterisations or soap opera overacting. Gerald Berkowitz

Heart and Sole Gilded Balloon
As both writer and performer, Lynn Ferguson achieves the wondrous feat of creating a skewed reality and making it seem absolutely solid and normal, even as we laugh at its absurdities. At the centre of her tale is a schoolteacher - an episode in a classroom is one of the comic highlights - who visits an aquarium one day and develops a deep and spiritual romantic connection with a fish. There is something both terribly sad and terribly funny about this, but as she describes her love with the calm sincerity of the truly mad, we find ourselves drawn into her world, as does the initially sceptical friend also played by Ferguson. There's also a third character, part of a fish-worshiping cult who latch on to the teacher and drag her along as they storm the aquarium, but by this point Ferguson has us so completely that we'll believe anything. It is warm, it is touching and it is very funny - pure theatrical magic created by a woman on an almost bare stage. Gerald Berkowitz

Richard Herring - The Headmaster's Son Underbelly
Adolescent angst, self-dramatisation and sexual insecurity are not especially original material for stand-up comedy, though Richard Herring puts them in a fresh context by questioning whether his teenage experiences, which included being indeed the headmaster's son, turned him into the unmarried fortyish comedian he is. After careful and comic analysis of the evidence, the answer turns out to be maybe. Though Herring can now find all the traumas of his youth comical, he must also recognise that they weren't particularly traumatic or life-changing. The picture he creates is of a fairly happy and normal kid who might just as easily taken some other path in life, except that he did have a precocious flair for comedy even then. Herring bravely reads from his teenage diary, taking as much delight in the kid's egocentricity and pomposity as in his real cleverness. Both the energy level and Herring's hold on his audience drop significantly toward the end of the hour as nostalgia and philosophising overpower comedy, and Herring 's highly polished delivery - not for him any ad libs, audience interaction or deviations from the memorised script - occasionally threatens to lapse into rote recitation. Gerald Berkowitz

The Highwayman C Cubed
Taking inspiration from Alfred Noyes' classic poem, this ambitious piece of theatre also features abstract film footage and originally composed music to bring the 18th century cautionary tale closer to a contemporary audience. Scripted by Bahar Brunton, the six- hander is a collage of monologues by Bess, the landlord's daughter in love with the highwayman, and a horse-keeper secretly in love with Bess, mixed in with a couple of dramatic scenes of violence in the landlord's inn. As an adaptation exercise, the Curious Room's piece is graced with a strong sense of the visual and aural aesthetic. However, the action often seems too crammed on the small stage and the piece's intended contemporary relevance remains obscured by the sheer power of the original and the company's enthralling reverence towards it. Admirers of the poem or those interested in finding out about it will still have to go away and read the work for themselves, and this piece will provide a valuable impetus. Those just on the lookout for a good piece of theatre might be robbed of their expectation. Duska Radosavljevic

Craig Hill Makes Your Whole Week Gilded Balloon
Craig Hill has developed such a devoted fan base that the audience comes in primed to laugh and the comedian could probably get away with a half-steam show. But he delivers full value for money, both in prepared material and in ad libs, the latter frequently taking over most of the hour so that he has to rush toward the end to get in at least some of what he planned. Hill regulars will know better than to sit in the front row, or will masochistically choose to, prepared to be noticed, insulted and made the butt of running gags. Hill is certainly an unprejudiced insulter, equally harsh on Scots, Brits and Australians (He didn't encounter any Americans at this show, though I doubt they would have escaped his wicked wit), on the posh or the Primark shopper, on straight or gay. Digressions abound, as everything seems to remind him of a joke he hadn't planned to tell, though one can guess that the definition of Australians, the Glaswegian BeeGees tribute band and the trip to the Eurovision Song Contest are likely to recur from night to night. The accent may occasionally be a bit thick to non-Scots, but then again one of his running jokes is about how just about anyone in his audience will be incomprehensible to half the others. Gerald Berkowitz

How It Ended C Cubed
A small and inherently realistic story is raised to the level of myth by the new company You Need Me, employing elements of storytelling, movement and dance into the performance. During World War Two one of a family of four Welsh girls meets a French flier, marries him after a whirlwind romance and then waits as he goes off to fight. He survives and returns to take her home to France with him, where language and culture barriers compound the inevitable strains of a marriage of two people who hardly know each other. The production is at its best in the first half, evoking both the small world of the Welsh village and the overpowering intensity of the love affair, but style, language and performances become somewhat more prosaic and earthbound in the French section, producing a severe drop in the play's energy and hold on the audience. It is almost as if the company ran out of inspiration halfway through, but enough is on show to make one look forward to another opportunity for them to explore and sustain their inventiveness. Gerald Berkowitz

I Caught Crabs In Walberswick Pleasance
Joel Horwood's portrait of small lives in small crises is the best Jon Godber play not by Jon Godber that I've ever seen. Like the master, Horwood puts a handful of characters in what should be a light and harmless setting and then lets the fault lines in their lives begin to show. Here it's two teenage boys in the titular resort town who are picked up by a posh girl and led into a night of self-discovery for all of them. It may come as little surprise that the girl turns out to be more screwed up than either of the lads, or that all three sets of parents have disfunctions of their own. But what is a pleasant revelation is that the boys come to understand that they themselves are actually in pretty good shape, though their friendship may not be. Lucy Kerbel directs Horwood's fluid script with high energy that does not interfere with its sensitivity. Andrew Barron and Rosie Thomson play all the adults and further double as narrators, while Aaron Foy, Harry Hepple and Gemma Soul surmount stereotypes to make the teens recognisable and sympathetic. Gerald Berkowitz

I Love You, Bro Pleasance Dome
Based on a true story, Adam J. A. Cass's solo play shows us a lonely teenager absorbed in the world of online chat rooms. When he realises that he knows one of the other chatters and that the boy thinks he is exchanging messages with a girl, he is drawn into an ever-more complex web of fabrications. Barely realising his own homosexual longings, he begins an online romance in the character of the girl, then has her introduce him as her brother, then invents a rival boyfriend for her. By the time he has convinced the other kid that several of the characters in this construct have been murdered and that he - the other kid - is being recruited as a government agent, there seems no place for this fantasist to go but tragedy. Actor Ash Flanders makes the boy's innocence, lack of self-awareness and incredible imagination and persuasive powers all real, while keeping us caring for him so that we dread the direction this is all taking him. Like the character's lies, the playwright's story eventually gets a little too complicated for him to control or find a way out of, and the play's ending is both arbitrary and abrupt, leaving too many questions unanswered. Gerald Berkowitz

In A Thousand Pieces Gilded Balloon
The subject is the trafficking, exploitation and abuse of women in the sex trade. The company is The Paper Birds, committed to a fluid style that incorporates dance, music and mime with the spoken word. The result is a frequently evocative, sometimes harrowing and sometimes ineffective picture of those unfortunates drawn to Britain by hopes of opportunity and a new life, only to be brutalised and forced into prostitution. The show opens on a light note, as the three performers - Elle Moreton, Jemma McDonnell and Kylie Walsh - read from file cards the words of young women planning trips to Britain, about what they imagine it to be like and what they hope to do there, and then mime and dance the wonder of arrival. But then, as recordings give us the words of the women picked up by the traffickers and repeatedly raped and beaten into submission, the actresses reflect the story in mime and dance. At its best, this mode, while not graphic, does capture the horror of the experience. But at least some of the time it is either too literal to add much to the recorded accounts or, conversely, too distanced from what is being described to resonate with it. Some of the strongest moments have little to do with the company's performance style - a film showing Brits trying to draw a map of Europe, demonstrating how unaware of the world outside they are, and the simple adding up of the number of rapes the typical victim endures in a year. Gerald Berkowitz

Itsoseng Pleasance Dome
Littered with pieces of windswept newspapers, orange skins and urban debris, this 'forgotten piece of space' is Itsoseng, a South African township whose name means 'wake yourself up'. A fitting name for a play which, by way of rendering a story of doomed love, becomes an epitaph to an entire generation of young people whose lives have been destroyed by wrong politicians having the power, deluded revolutionaries having a gift of the gab and ruined economy having no chance of renewal. Mawilla is a local dagga-smoking young man, hopelessly in love with Dolly, his childhood sweetheart whose life is being destroyed by prostitution. The author and performer of this solo piece, an immensely talented twenty-four year old Omphile Molusi - who is from Itsoseng himself - imbues his storyteller with a perfect combination of vigour and tenderness, understated charm and characteristic indolence. Equally layered and evocative are each of his depictions of other invisible characters, from fat-cat politicians and failed revolutionaries to ignorant newsreaders and various lost souls and Itsoseng passer-bys on their way to a funeral. Mawilla is on his way to the funeral too, but he has stopped in his tracks in order to tell us his story. And by the end of it - out of the debris around him and the remnants of his hope - he has somehow managed to build a small, beautiful shrine to his lost love and his thwarted dreams. Duska Radosavljevic

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

Jumping The Shark C Cubed
A sketch show driven by an attractively askew sense of humour, Jumping The Shark is an object lesson in the potentials and pitfalls of sketch shows. Coming up with a wild or clever idea is only the first step, and the hard part is putting together a sketch that is actually as funny as the premise seemed to promise. Sometimes the company get it right, as in the portrait of Tom Cruise and Will Smith as camp luvies, and sometimes the joke turns out not to be there after all, as in the idea of football hiring and firing as lovers' tiffs. The randy invisible goose, the beach voyeur and the mascot for Obama sketches peter out without finding their joke; the rich kids spending their gap year in a war zone, the overzealous neighbourhood watch and the chain reaction of disasters take their clever ideas to funny places. Overall, the success rate is probably better than most, with the actually funny bits carrying the show over the weak stretches.
Gerald Berkowitz

The Just in Case Gilded Balloon
If you'd expected a children's show revolving around clever wordplay, you'd do well to reconsider whether this is the right choice for you. Created by dancer Sarah Swinfield, scenographer Chan Vi and theatre designer Clare Seviour, the piece is entirely non-verbal and highly visual but still quite playful and aimed at a young audience. According to their publicity, the show has been designed around different objects that people carry 'just in case' - mostly ropes, rags and trinkets, though a converted umbrella, a big magnifying glass and a string of ballet-shoes also make an appearance. One would imagine that a workshop package entailing the making of sequinned insects and colourful puppets would form a much more effective use of this company's resources, although Swinfield is a highly watchable performer. Perhaps Ambidextrous does need to bring a director or a dramaturge on board to really make their ideas work more theatrically and to make the right steps towards creating a brand new audience for non-verbal storytelling and physical theatre. Duska Radosavljevic

Kit and the Widow Stage By Stage
The veteran cabaret duo, now in their 29th visit to the Fringe, give their loyal fans, median age somewhere north of bus passes, exactly what they come for - witty songs, unthreatening camp and an hour of jolly fun. As always Kit (Kit Hesketh-Harvey) does most of the singing as the Widow (Richard Sisson) plays the piano. This time around, recent news stories lead to the Von Trapped Family, a string of Sound of Music parodies set in an Austrian cellar, and from there to a song about how Andrew Lloyd Webber produces musicals by everyone but himself. National and Scottish politics get a look-in, the Widow sings a couple of songs about soup, and he and an audience volunteer subvert Kit's mock attempts at German lieder. One wonders whether all of what Kit calls the Edinbourgoisie catch passing references to sleeping like a top or kissing someone's ring, but the camp itself is as much a put-on as the songs. Fans of Flanders and Swann or Fascinating Aida will probably have found K&W already; if not, they will almost certainly prove very much to your taste. Gerald Berkowitz

Lie of the Land Pleasance
Torben Betts' new two-hander starts strong but repeatedly loses its focus, deciding halfway through that it is not about what it seemed to be about at all, but something else, and then making that decision yet again near its end. As a result, none of its three ostensible purposes is fully met, and the audience is in danger of leaving not sure what any of it was really meant to be about. We meet a couple as they are moving into a lovely country home and the start of what they imagine to be a wonderful new life, but of course cracks in their relationship and their dream soon appear, and we settle in to watch them fall apart. But then suddenly Betts introduces apocalyptic rains and flooding that lead to panicked rioting and looting, and the play loses interest in the couple's marriage to become an end-of-the-world fable. And then gears shift once again, as Betts declares it all an allegory of middle-class compacency. Director Adam Barnard can't hold it all together, and directing Neal Barry and Nia Gwynne to overact and underdevelop their characters doesn't help. Gerald Berkowitz

Life at the Molecular Level Underbelly
There are indications, primarily in their publicity, that this group-created work began as a rumination on the subjects of isolation and the inexorable passage of time. But the three writer-performers seem to have been distracted by their infatuation with their own cleverness, so that most traces of the theme and all traces of clear communication were sacrificed to their self-adulation. Put another way, the three guys onstage enjoy themselves immensely showing off, with little regard for whether the audience will have as much fun as they or have any idea of what they are up to. The three dance in their underwear to music only they can hear. They take turns cooking ready meals in microwaves, wearing silly hats, and singing Karaoke. In bits and pieces they tell the story of the man who parachuted from the greatest height. There is also a briefer account of the man who walked a tightrope between the World Trade Center buildings and a vaguely accurate summary of Melville's story Bartleby the Scrivener. Throughout, they affect the gimmick of stopping, rewinding and repeating dialogue when they supposedly go wrong. Yes, somewhere in there are symbols of time passing and the narratives do deal with men in isolation, but it may be significant that no director is credited, suggesting that the three creators had no one to tell them how little of their intention was coming through their self-indulgence. Gerald Berkowitz

Lost In The Wind Zoo
Lost Spectacles, an attractive young company from Bristol, have put together a mainly mime programme of physical humour and atmosphere-setting stage pictures that is not quite as original or coherent as they may think. Reading their press release sometime after seeing the show, I was surprised to discover that it was meant to have a plot of sorts because, although a few characters reappear in more than one sequence, the hour plays like a string of self-contained mime sketches loosely tied by the theme of weather. Figures take turns coping with blown-away newspapers, playing with balloons, walking into the wind, shivering in the cold, and so on, with the performers apparently not realising that much of what they do is a minor variant on standard street mime stuff, with the unfair advantage of an actual wind machine and barrels of artificial snow. The performer-creators have yet to find either the technical proficiency or the ability to communicate their intentions that will move them beyond what play like a series of occasionally lovely or comic classroom exercises.
Gerald Berkowitz

Lough/Rain Underbelly
This double bill of plays authored by two different writers uses the same characters, Caoimhe and Michael, whose love for each other is tested by a terrible accident. Declan Feenan's Lough is an intriguing and deeply poetic study of dreams drowned in domesticity, focusing on the morning before the accident. A sense of foreboding, mistrust and guilt vaguely suggested by the script is heightened by director Dan Sherer's atmospheric world which he has woven around the characters using predominantly the resources of silence and pre-recorded sound. Clara Brennan's piece entitled Rain takes place in a residential care home after the accident. Deriving a lot of drama from the given conceit itself, Brennan then turns her attention to the ways in which, for the sake of sanity, the characters struggle to hold on to the measurable values, but also to each other, even if against the odds. Actors Kate Donmall and Jot Davies deliver consistent, engaging and often very powerful performances throughout both pieces, thus giving a very strong throughline to the double bill as a whole. Sombre but accomplished. Duska Radosavljevic

Lucky Nurse and Other Short Musical Plays C Cubed
This programme of four mini-musicals by Michael John LaChiusa introduced the composer-lyricist who went on to be one of the most promising new Broadway talents of the 1990s. They prove to be an excellent showcase for his talent and for the performers in them, with a range of topics, tones and musical styles. LaChiusa hadn't fully found his own voice at this point, and inevitably was under the inescapable influence of Stephen Sondheim, so the first piece, 'Eulogy For Mister Hamm,' in which the residents of a rooming house kvetch comically about their landlord, is made up musically of what sound like out-takes from Company. 'Break' is also little more than a blackout joke, as two construction workers have a supernatural visitation they decide to pretend never happened. But 'Agnes' is a touching little play about a disabled woman who senses the true ghostly identity of a would-be mugger and lets him know she's ready for him. 'Lucky Nurse' is the most ambitious of the plays, following a string of lonely people as they don't quite make contact with each other on a sad and rainy night. Of the four attractive performers Dominic Brewer is clearly the strongest, both musically and dramatically. Lucy Barnett is a fine singing actress, but she has evidently never been taught to project, and is too frequently inaudible from six feet away. Gerald Berkowitz

 

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

Reviews - Edinburgh Festival - 2008