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The Theatreguide.London Reviews

EDINBURGH FESTIVAL AND FRINGE 2009

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 our dedicated reviewers covered close to 250 shows. Once again, our thanks to Edinburgh veterans Duska Radosavljevic and Philip Fisher and the rest of our expanded Edinburgh team 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 another page and M-Z here.

Scroll down this page for our reviews of Man Made - Manolibera - Matinee - Max and Ivan - Alistair McGowan - Meesterlijk - Memento Mori - Metamorphosis - Me Too - Michael Clark Dance Company - Midsummer - Patrick Monahan - Monday - Mong Yeon - Montana Ranch - Justin Moorhouse - Morecambe - Mother/Son - Murder Mystery Musical - My Grandfather's Great War - My Life With The Dogs - My Mind's Eye - My Name Is Sue - Myriad -

Normality - David O'Doherty - Odyssey - Oh My Green Soapbox - The One and the Many - Andrew O'Neill - Ophelia (Drowning) - Optimism - The Origin of Species - Origins - Orphans - Out of Chaos - Oxford Revue -

Palace of the End - Pan Pa'Tim - Parents Evening - Party - The Penny Dreadfuls - Philberto - Plagiarismo! - The Play About Charlotte - Play On Words - Precious Little Talent - Matt Price - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Private Peaceful - Pullman Car Hiawatha - Pythonesque - Randy's Postcards From Purgatory - Re___ - RealiTV - Regret Me Not - Rich Hall's Campfire Stories - Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes - Rogue Males -

Scaramouche Jones - The School for Scandal - Screwloose - Sea Wall - Selective Hearing - Serate Bastarde - The Shade Ain't Right - Shakespeare for Breakfast - Show Down - Shed Simove - 6.0 - Slave Trader - The Sociable Plover - The Sound of My Voice - Stalag Happy - The State We're In - Stitches - A Stroke of Genius - Success Story - Super Situation - Sweeney Todd - Sweet -

Terry Pratchett's Lords and Ladies - This Mortal Coil - Three Women - Tim - Time Out of Joint - Timeshare - The Ultimately Doomed Life of Charlie Cumcup - Unit 46 - Up - Ava Vidal - The Virginia Monologues -

Felicity Ward - Ward No. 6 - Weepie - We Made a Funny - Why Do All Catherines Call Themselves Kate? - The Wind in the Willows - Wolfboy - Glenn Wool - Words of Honour - The World's Wife - Tom Wrigglesworth - The Yellow Wallpaper - Your Number's Up - Zeitgeist - Zemblanity - Zoo Lodge


Man Made: 1,2,3 C
The Midlands-based co-operative of artists, On the Verge, is presenting three physical theatre and dance pieces across three weeks of the festival, all themed on the idea of humans coming to terms with man-made existence. The week I caught up with the company - unaware of their changing repertoire - they were running Man-Made 2, dealing with masculinity. At times a bit too consciously influenced by DV8, the nine-strong ensemble, dressed in blue workers' overalls, offered up a repertoire of rituals, games and insecurities contained within the world of man-to-man interaction. Physically, this allows for a warm up routine consisting of press ups, jumps and lifts as well as some rough and tumble to be woven into the opening minutes of the testosterone-driven show. Inevitably an arm wrestle as well as some competitive games and more serious confrontations will grow out of this particular set up. Graham Ireland's piece, co-choreographed with Lee Simmonds and John Rouse (all of whom perform as well) touches on an interesting theme when it explores pressures on an individual to fit in with a gang. This particular aspect of the piece's journey could have gone much further beyond some comedic grimacing however. Duska Radosavljevic

Manolibera C
This inventive import from Italy is great fun for a while as a pair of actors perform in mime and gibberish while a third projects cartoon overlays on them, occasionally drawing in alterations. So, for example, they sit down on two stools and he puts them in a car, adding others and moving the cartoon background as they drive along. A cartoon tap left running threatens to drown them in rising cartoon water until they find a real plug and pull it, and a harmless-looking fish becomes a menace when the image-manipulator draws in piranha teeth. There's a loose ecological theme to the show, with the automobile sequence generating drawn-in air pollution and a shopping expedition leading to mountains of rubbish, but the point is not belaboured to the detriment of the comedy. More of a problem is the fact that the device is not developed beyond its basic use, so that the episodes become somewhat predictable and repetitious, losing the element of delightful surprise, while a glacial pacing repeatedly allows the charm or inventiveness of a sequence to drain away as it lingers on. Gerald Berkowitz

Matinee Pleasance Dome
A very inventive Israeli mime company offer this salute to B-movie genres, with the cast acting out loving parodies in mime and gibberish. Superman foils some bank robbers, catches the girl falling off the building ledge, and battles a super villain who somehow morphs into King Kong. A detective of Clouseau-ish thickness solves a crime. A kung-fu hero is defeated, retreats to years of meditation and training, and returns to avenge himself, all to the sound of out-of-sync dialogue. A horror film catalogues and salutes every cliche of the form. The company of six are all inventive writers, skilled mimes and inspired comics - consider the difficulty of miming, say, Superman's transformation into Clark Kent, and then see how cleverly, clearly and comically they pull it off. They're also smart enough not to stretch any of the gags beyond their natural life, so that the fun never flags. Gerald Berkowitz

Max and Ivan: Televisionaries C
Working on the premise that TV programmers believe all their viewers have the attention span of a gnat (might be true), Max Olesker (the one with long hair) and Ivan Gonzalez (the one with the beard) have programmed a set-top box of sketches that flip through the channels non-stop. No theme is spared. In Toyland Mr & Mrs Flobberdob fall into a domestic dispute over infidelity, tonight's Partly Political Broadcast is courtesy of unsavoury Nazis Neville Hatred and Brian who dismally fail their own citizenship tests, while footballers get florid about soccer in The Beautiful Game culture show which goes back-to-back with Art of the Day where artist Lucien Freud gormlessly reels off footballer cliches about his latest moves in painting. Music gets a look-in with the 'Credit Crunch' rap, as do video games with Super Mario and sibling Luigi in the gritty crime drama 16 Bit Streets. Punctuating the live action are a flurry of ads, sketches and public announcements via videos and lo-tech animations projected behind the duo. Memorable are the commercials for spurious loans and the Russian Technologycoat, and the Spy Sport cloud race. It may all seem a tad obvious but Max and Ivan effortlessly find a different angle on their targets. And don't let the cuddly delivery fool you - this can be close to the bone, as proved by the Chuckle Brother ('singular') and Eaters Anonymous (for models who inadvertently eat) episodes. With panto-like skill the pair guide the hard stuff safely over the heads of any audience members who happen to be minors, making this one of the best all-round value shows of the festival. Nick Awde

Alistair McGowan - The One and Many Assembly Hall
It has been thirteen years since Alistair McGowan's last Festival appearance, but he shows no hesitancy in taking and holding the stage. So confident is he, in fact, that the first ten or fifteen minutes of his act are pure stand-up, without a hint of the celebrity impressions most of his audience have come for. He does get to the impressions eventually, and even then does not let himself coast too easily. While many would be satisfied with the uncannily accurate voices alone, McGowan makes sure each is used in the service of a legitimate joke. The Terry Wogan having sex gag builds to a punch line that would score even without the voice, as does the impression of Jonathan Ross interviewing Mrs. Beckham. McGowan's victims are about equally divided between performers and sports figures, the latter group leaving athletes and TV commentators vying for most brainless. Only political figures, as a group, get relatively short shrift. Inevitably, those targets with particularly identifiable voices or speech patterns are easiest to imitate and provide the most fun for the audience, and so McGowan's Rowan Atkinson is stronger than his Frank Skinner, his Jo Brand more successful than his Graham Norton. Other moments that score pretend to confuse Simon Callow with Simon Cowell, or find familiar voices in unfamiliar settings, as with Nicholas Cage doing housework. It is clear from the opening section and the few times along the way that he drops the imitations for jokes in his own voice, as well as the from his insistence that every impersonation have a real joke in it, that there is considerably more to McGowan's talent and dedication than the ability to sound like others . Gerald Berkowitz

Meesterlijk: Showcasing the Best of Dutch Theatre GRV
In keeping with the agenda of Utrecht's Theatergroep Ponies and with the pertinent subtitle 'Why Are You looking?', Scala is a play that serves up a subtle glimpse of alienation in modern society. As a well-dressed woman arrives at a swanky restaurant for dinner with her best friend, her grip on reality abruptly vanishes. At first she lurches in shock but soon finds a certain pleasure in the surreal objectivity her newfound condition provides her as she mentally floats around the other diners. From the moment she steps onstage and dizzily debates which hook to hang her coat on, Anna Hermanns hits an unsettlingly dark balance of humour and paranoia. And although the performance is a tad too high-octane from the outset and so loses a degree of emotional finetuning, she is utterly compelling as the hapless guest coping with her social breakdown. Meanwhile Lize van Olden is delicately long-suffering in the challenging role of the ever silent dinner partner. In a team effort, Anna adapts Enver Husicic's Dutch text in a fluid English translation by Terry Ezra, while director Ria Marks crafts from the result a tautly emotional setpiece that gets all your thought buds working by the climactic final course. This is the first in a new series of plays selected from the cutting edge of Dutch theatre ('meesterlijk' translates as 'virtuoso'). Scala successfully whets the appetite for more. Nick Awde

Memento Mori Spaces at Jury's Inn
If you have a spare thirty minutes, you could do a lot worse than go the eighth floor of a hotel, to the tiny venue hosting Leicester University's production of David Campton's play. Set in a house 'far from the living', an old man is selling it to another, younger man. Each has a sinister plan for how it may be used. This is unpretentious student theatre at its best. Kirsty Lawrence's directing makes the most of minimal space and set, mixing comedy with the uncanny to great effect. The audience is transported away from the polished hotel and into a dusty, cobwebbed old house that even Miss Haversham may have entered with trepidation. The two actors relish in their characters' abuse of its isolation. As the two men, Sam Illingworth and Dom Rye work extremely well together, complementing each other's performances wonderfully. The characters are slightly clichéd in their conception at times, yet remain consistently enjoyable and engaging. Although limited by the venue, there is still scope for improvements in lighting and sound which would heighten the atmosphere and benefit the production enormously. This theatre company deserves more funding, and then a bigger venue and a full hour to really show what they are capable of. Oliver Kassman

Metamorphosis C Too
Steven Berkoff's Metamorphosis, based on the novella by Franz Kafka, tells of the sudden, bizarre transformation of the hard-worked and downtrodden Gregor Samsa into a gigantic insect. Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club's production captures the horror of such a situation excellently. Staged largely on and around scaffolding, with frequent excursions into the aisles, the performance hits the stage with an explosive energy and rarely lets up. The ensemble, for the most part, cope very well with the physical demands placed upon them. They seem to never tire and only occasionally lose cohesion. Unfortunately, because the choreography is, in the main, beautifully precise, those moments that seem less thought out or under-rehearsed are glaringly obvious. Some comedy juggling in particular falls flat. The extreme characterisation of the Samsa family at times threatens to cross into over-acting but is generally in keeping with the frenetic energy of the production as a whole. Director Max Barton is to be praised for the fantastic use of space from beginning to end. The whole cast are very strong but particular credit must be given to Nick Ricketts playing Gregor whose vocal and physical performance does not falter despite spending much of the fifty minute running time contorted or upside down. Overall this is a highly entertaining and visually stunning production that only occasionally falters. Joseph Ronan

Me Too - A Sideshow New Town Theatre
Ulrike Quade is a lady of remarkably rich imagination and the wherewithal to put it on the stage with originality and charm. In her burlesque puppetry show she draws us into the world of Siamese twins Daisy and Violet - inspired by the real life musical vaudeville act from the 1920s - the Hilton sisters. Although the script, penned by her director Ron Bunzl, is often superficial and rudimentary when it comes to bringing her characters to life, Bunzl does provide a video backdrop to the story which serves to layer the content in an interesting way. The centrepiece of Quade's concept is a puppet twin for herself as a performer designed to aid a thematic exploration of the sisters' desperate desire to experience individuality. The audience is therefore in a position to witness a multi-tasking feat of nuanced characterisation occurring by means of both conventional acting and object manipulation. In addition, the performer at times handles an additional puppet - the sisters' son Arthur - while also singing and dancing an occasional revue number. And just in case any of that sounds too safe and sedate, there's some vibrator puppetry in wait to shake things up. Duska Radosavljevic

Michael Clark: New Work Edinburgh Playhouse
Michael Clark's return to the Edinburgh Festival for the first time since 1988 opens with a back projection of the words The End. There are two parts to the evening. The first, entitled Swamp, is a revamped version of his 1984 piece which also won him an Oliver in 2005 upon his return to public life. Functioning as a kind of Micheal Clark primer, this is where his particular dance vocabulary consisting of arched backs, slick pointy limbs, and tilted one-legged balancing acts is at its clearest. Although BodyMap signs off the costume element of this show too, there are no bare bottoms or provocative add-ons on this occasion. Instead, Clark's dancers, adorned in metallic blue body stockings are more reminiscent of Olympic gymnasts than the ballet rock-stars one might have expected. It is the second part of the show 'come, been and gone' that forms the anticipated return to his roots. Underscored by the songs of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and David Bowie, and lit by Charles Atlas' range of primary colour schemes, the line up of up to ten short and often elegant numbers is often closer in its visual effect to a Paris fashion show than a rock gig. Clearly, the notorious enfant terrible of British ballet, the iconic fallen angel and the prodigal son has grown up, matured and obtained great wisdom and sublime beauty. And in the process of his resurrection, he opts for a studied and elevated tribute to the 'heros' and 'heroin' of his youth, rather than sentimental nostalgia. Duska Radosavljevic

Midsummer Traverse
An obviously mismatched couple meet-cute, have sex and other improbable adventures, and only then begin to realise that they are each deeper, and good for each other, than they knew. David Greig's play, with amiable songs by Gordon McIntyre, not only finds fresh ways to retell that familiar rom-com story, but effortlessly overlays it with thought- and emotion-provoking philosophical meanings you wouldn't expect the genre to be able to carry with such grace. Upscale girl meets petty crook on a rainy Edinburgh night, and almost before they can get their kit off they are speculating on death, ageing, identity and the meaning of life - all presented through inventive and constantly entertaining theatrical devices. Their adventure somehow includes a disrupted wedding, a goth drinking party, a bondage club and a parking meter with a philosophical bent, proclaiming as it does that 'Change is possible.' Scenes are played and then replayed to consider alternative paths, the two characters take turns breaking the fourth wall to editorialise on each other's actions, and surprises ranging from ukulele-accompanied songs to inviting questions from the audience keep us entertained and on the mental alert throughout. David Greig directs with a sure and inventive hand, and Cora Bissett and Matthew Pidgeon hold our interest, our affection and our faith in their happy ending from start to finish.
Gerald Berkowitz

Patrick Monahan Gilded Balloon
Patrick Monahan's act depends more on a general jollying of his audience than on any particularly strong comic material. He quickly establishes a conspiratorial comraderie by opening the fire escape doors to the sweltering Gilded Balloon room and even inviting some passing strangers in. He carries the standard 'embarrass the guys in the front row' ploy to unusual length, making them take a friendship test from a women's magazine and eventually join him onstage in an elaborate dance. Women's mags make up one strand of his monologue, as he reads and expresses mock horror at the agony aunt letters and replies. Other material includes the impulse to join in overheard conversations, his half-Iranian background, and growing up as the square while his friends were experimenting with drugs. The connections between the various topics are tenuous and the transitions frequently abrupt. But with little that is especially original or funny in any of them, it is Monahan's enthusiasm and ability to generate and sustain a party atmosphere that keep his audience happy and carry the hour. Gerald Berkowitz

Monday C Soco
Gloria Williams' solo play tells a sadly familiar story in a mode so fresh, individual and passion-filled that she invests it with a new life and reality. Performing the monologue herself, Williams plays a North London teenager whose family is about to crumble as her stepfather fills the house with his hyper-religious zeal, her mother senses something amiss and blames it entirely on her, and she herself has internalised this accusation enough to think herself a loser pre-ordained to be the slut and school laughing stock she is becoming. You will guess the core of the problem long before the character allows herself to say it (Hint: she has a lock on her bedroom door), but her reticence and, more sadly, her inability to talk to her closed-minded mother, are believable and central to the story's tragedy. A big part of the script's power lies in Williams' style, a mix of West Indian grammar and London teen slang and casual obscenity, with occasional overtones of rap rhythms and rhymes, a beautifully crafted and sustained mode that elevates the real-sounding into poetry. Of a crazy lady shouting in the street she says 'Her vocals be bouncin' off the locals,' while a sympathetic teacher 'passes me a smile, and I take it.' Williams may try to sustain her heightened reality and the withholding of the key revelation a bit too long, and some judicious trimming might keep the intensity from occasionally flagging. But there is a real writer here, and a performer of great power. Gerald Berkowitz

Mong-Yeon (A Love in Dream) C
This haunting show from Modl Theatre has sold out in Korea for the past three years and it is easy to see why. You find yourself drawn immediately into the simple yet multi-layered tale of a straitlaced Korean woman mourning the death of her beloved (Nam-Soo Jin). In the bereft widow's dreams the couple become reunited and so defy time and reality but as she demands more, the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead starts to blur dangerously. Speaking in both Korean and English and led by Ae-Ri Park and Nam-Soo Jin as the doomed lovers, this focused 13-strong ensemble expertly balances drama with music as they sing or play instruments at pertinent points to propel the plot along. Stand-out scenes include the colourful wedding ceremony taken over by an ebullient singing beggar (Wook-Hyun Sun), the poignant ritual of the widow toasting the departed or her vain search through the gigantic nuptial bedsheet that billows across the stage. Visually sumptuous and emotionally breathtaking, A Love in Dream is all the more remarkable for its seamless mix of traditional and modern genres where Ho-Sung Kwon's sensitive direction melds movement with Jung-Sook Kim's sweeping script and Kyung-Wha Lee's lush compositions. Nick Awde

Montana Ranch C Central
Author Dylan Dougherty may not realise it, but his play reworks the basic situation of David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow in what may be a more timely setting. Where Mamet had one of a pair of Hollywood hustlers convinced by a woman that he was really an idealist, Dougherty imagines two guys raising money in a scam save-the-environment campaign when one is made to see the light by his tree-hugging girlfriend and argues for actually donating the loot to good causes. Much of what follows is, as in Mamet, the still-crooked guy's attempt to win his buddy back to the dark side, though there is little hint of Mamet's satire or insight into the kinds of mind games men play on themselves. Dougherty seems really interested in the debate, which goes on long after each side has made its case, and in the goal of alerting us to the danger of eco-crooks. If there is a satiric or comic intention to the play, it does not come across in performance, and either some mistiming, flubbed cue or just clumsy writing makes the final moments, and thus the final message, totally opaque.
Gerald Berkowitz

Justin Moorhouse: Seven Pleasance Dome
If you are the fortunate possessor of an accent from the north-west people already start thinking you're funny. Regional stereotyping aside, there is a birthright to humour in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Blackpool and thereabouts that you just wouldn't find, say, in Sussex. Being from Hyde, Justin Moorhouse is already comically blessed as soon as he opens his raucous mouth. The title of his latest show is Seven, a digit that refers not to the seven dwarves (although enticingly there is a Snow White costume onstage) but to Christopher Booker's 2005 study 'The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories' - which Moorhouse hadn't realise was critically panned before buying it. Undeterred, he embarks on a ripping theme-led tour of the modern subjects that intrigue us all, peppered all along the way with wickedly personal asides from his own life. The motif of 'Tragedy' sparks an onslaught the OTT reaction to Michael Jackson's death, 'Rags to Riches' brings a wonderful rant about the credit crunch while 'The Quest' provides an excuse for a very funny recurrent dig at humourless Yorkshire stereotypes - although Bolton gets it in the neck too. A throwaway line about Harold Shipman unexpectedly leads to an extraordinarily bizarre revelation about Hyde's serial killer GP (and let's not forget that Moor Murderers lived there too). In amongst the patter, asides and red herrings, Moorhouse promises to make us laugh and not think, but, though slipping occasionally away from good taste, sneakily he manages to do both. Nick Awde

Morecambe Assembly Hall
I think of it as the ongoing Dead Comics Chronicles, as almost every festival brings a solo show devoted to some iconic comedian - Hancock, Williams, Cook, Hill. The authors and performers differ but the format is almost always the same, as we encounter the comic either just before or just after his death, and he reminisces about his life and career, mixing familiar parts of the story with the occasional obscure or surprise fact. And Tim Whitnall's salute to Eric Morecambe is strictly by the numbers. We hear the news report of Eric's death and then Bob Golding steps through the curtain in the raincoat and flat cap that were one of Morecambe's familiar images. He then just tells us the story, most of which most of us already know - the beginnings as a child performer, the teaming with Ernie Wise at age 12, the transition to adult stardom on the variety circuit, the disastrous first TV series that almost finished them, the years of rebuilding their reputation and finally the 1970s and 1980s TV classics that made them icons. Golding doesn't especially resemble Morecambe or attempt a close impersonation, but he and director Guy Masterson are astute enough to see that the eyeglasses, the Lancashire accent and just a few hints at Eric's posture and speech rhythms are enough. And of course the script throws in references to bits (the paper bag trick) or episodes (the Andre Previn sketch) that automatically generate nostalgic laughter. I've never understood the appeal of Elvis impersonators or ABBA tribute acts, but if you'd rather see someone pretending to be Morecambe than a DVD of the real Eric and Ernie, here it is. Gerald Berkowitz

Mother/Son Sweet at the Grassmarket
Jeffrey Solomon is a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn who finally gathered up the courage to tell his mother why all those nice Jewish girls she kept setting him up with were wasting their time and why she really shouldn't be planning on grandchildren. His solo show is about what happened then as his mother struggled to come to grips with the news. Solomon plays both himself and his mother, most often giving one or both sides of a telephone conversation, as his mother, guided by an unwavering love, moves from denial to acceptance and pride. Solomon is astute and honest enough to recognise that for every two or three steps forward - attending her first Parents and Friends meeting, venturing into a gay bar with him - there was likely to be a step back, as when she asked him not to bring his boyfriend to a family wedding. But mama proves to be the heroine any son could hope for, and if Solomon's portrayal of her occasionally wanders toward caricature, there can be no doubt that this touching and warmly humorous show is a sincerely felt and communicated love letter to a remarkable woman. Gerald Berkowitz

Murder Mystery Musical George Square
A parody and salute to Agatha Christie-style mysteries, this slight but entertaining musical provides an evening of light-hearted fun without ever transcending a fringe-level feel. The book by Alister Cameron and Shaun McKenna, who also provide lyrics to Richard M. Brown's music, follows tradition by bringing a disparate group to an isolated location, where they begin dying off as they realise the murderer must be One Of Us. In this case, they're at the island estate of a dead entertainment executive for the reading of the will - the unfaithful wife, the unfaithful mistress, the bitter businessman, the faithful secretary, the clean-cut brother and the like. All the characters are quite openly cartoons, and much of the fun - and of the undergraduate revue feel of the show - comes from the witty exploitation and subversion of cliches. The songs are fun without being memorable, and the fact that several in the cast double as instrumentalists, sometimes from beyond the grave, adds to the general silliness. There may be a bit too much reliance on broad double entendres - and on broad mugging to underline them - in the book, and on in-joke topical references in the songs, for the show to have much of a chance outside the charitable environment of the fringe, though there could be some touring potential. Gerald Berkowitz

My Grandfather's Great War Gilded Balloon (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
It's not an original concept, but Cameron Stewart's presentation of his grandfather's war memoirs is one of the very best of the genre I've ever seen, the combination of Captain Alexander Stewart's vivid and eloquent writing and his grandson's passionate performance both illuminating the familiar material and making for an exciting hour's theatre. David Benson, himself a talented solo performer, has shaped the material so that Stewart constantly gives us a double view, his grandfather's immediate account and his own awe and horror. Captain Stewart miraculously survived some of the bloodiest and most futile battles of the War, and his descriptions embody all the horrors and absurdities, from the flies and mud to the matter-of-fact heroism of the soldiers around him, all of which the actor brings alive in his energy-filled performance. Cameron Stewart's position is one of unflagging admiration mixed with wonder that young men of a century ago could be so unquestioningly patriotic and the humble recognition that his own generation was not called upon to meet a similar standard. You come away not only reminded of the horrors of war but asking yourself how you would measure up against such heroes. Gerald Berkowitz

My Life With the Dogs Pleasance
In recent years, New International Encounter (NIE) have distinguished themselves as the makers of really exciting multi-lingual music theatre. The stories they choose to tell - interrupted love affairs, soldiers returning from wars and displaced children fighting for survival - are often quite sentimental, but always rooted in Europe's complicated history. Their latest piece is slightly unusual in that it focuses on a true event from the 1990s when a six-year old feral boy Ivan Mishukov was found in the Moscow underground, having apparently chosen to live with the dogs for two years rather than his mother and her alcoholic boyfriend. The company swap their trademark violins and accordions for electric guitars in the rendition of this tale primarily themed on that end of the Cold War Scorpions' hit 'Wind of Change', as well as sprinklings of Sinatra, and his Russian equivalent Visotski. This provides moments of light relief and some really interesting theatrics featuring a radio set in the front portion of the piece. However, as we progress deeper into the story's bleakness, it becomes harder to sustain a sense of hope and playfulness, and the company's undertaken duty towards authenticity leads them to an anti-climactic rather than a dramaturgically considered ending. Duska Radosavljevic

My Mind's Eye Sweet ECA
My Mind's Eye. a University of Wales production, seeks to explore and interrogate Shakespeare's Hamlet through a stimulating blend of multimedia and live performance. The show uses a mixture of video, sound, dance, mime and physical theatre to explore the themes of the famous tragedy. What we get however is less of a stimulating exploration, and more simply a demonstration. Not new ideas, just a different way of communicating them. Each sequence appears to represent a theme of the play, but without the desired effect of provoking thought or question. The format does produce some effective moments, a dance sequence between Amanda Mulford and Thomas Rhys taking on love and rejection is engaging, and the death of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as individually disappearing silhouettes is an impressive effect. What we crave however, is a strong, clever link between the action on the stage and visuals on the screen that both impresses us and makes us think. Whilst examples of this are not entirely absent, they ultimately only punctuate a series of disjointed images. Most overwhelmingly, the production lacks a clear sense of identity. The actors are absent from the stage for well over half of the 40 minute show, which relies heavily on video montage to create any atmosphere in the space. The space itself, Edinburgh College of Art, is at least appropriate. The piece shares more in common with an installation than a coherent piece of theatre - and not one I would necessarily spend 40 minutes in. Kevin Williams

My Name Is Sue Pleasance
Like the hitherto-unacknowledged daughter of Hugh Hughes and Eleanor Rigby, Dafydd James' creation treads the line between the real and the grotesque, the comic and the pathetic. In a nondescript dress and real-looking long hair, James as Sue sits at the piano and sings her relentlessly cheery falsetto songs about having tea with her family, watching her favourite movie, riding on the bus, and the like, occasionally backed by a small band who look like the Kransky Sisters (or Wynona Rider in Beetlejuice) on downers. But as the bizarre performance goes on, we might notice that the family tea was a respite from being bullied at school, the movie ends in bloody vengeance, and the happy bus trip morphs into a vision of hell. Sue's story, co-written by Dafydd James and Ben Lewis, gradually becomes like one of the small tragedies in Dylan Thomas's Under Milkwood, a cheery exterior disguising a dark and complex inner life. My Name Is Sue can be appreciated as a bizarre comic creation, the subtle presentation of a quietly sad characterisation, and a cleverly written and entertaining song cycle. It is certainly one of the most unusual, remarkable and memorable hours on the fringe. Gerald Berkowitz

Myriad Zoo
Collisions Dance's beautifully crafted cycle of interlocking dances looks at the assumptions we make about solitude being a lonely state. 'Myriad' refers to the many out there for whom solitude is simply one of several states they can choose from, and so the pieces are vivid scenes where, in their quest for solitude or company, the lives of three people cross, intertwine and are then unleashed in different directions. Some seek solitude as momentary relief from the social maelstrom, while others who enjoy their own company take a breather with others. The languid lines fit the laidback looselimbed routines of the jaunty pop of Nouvelle's Vague's 'Dancing with Myself' as an opener and other styles follow, each encapsulating a mood or social situation. The line-up changes and flows as easily as the music, such as the female duet with classically neat, mirrored symmetry that gradually turns competitive before the man appears to redress the balance resulting in a trio of slow flowing moves. Throughout, subtly repeated motifs grow in significance and embellish the routines. Dancers David Beer, Verity Hopkin and Jo Lamaison make it all look enticingly easy - you feel you want to just jump up and join in. As choreographer, Beer has created is a refreshingly lyrical blend of narrative and movement that deserves to be seen on the larger stages. Nick Awde

Normality Pleasance
A devil bounces onto the stage and spins the Wheel of Misfortune dispensing congenital diseases, inherited conditions and terminal sicknesses on undeserving humans as they are born. Cue the present and suddenly he morphs into the twisted body of Alex. His prize was juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which starts disabling the body from the age of three onwards. Joint replacements provide relief but otherwise it's a slow, painful and permanent condition. To Alex, though, it's the way he is and so quite normal - and he explains how he dresses, where he hurts and what he dreams of. And, chuckling, he is the first to point out the absurdity of it all. However, things turn serious when an able-bodied female journalist turns up to interview him at the hospice where he works (it makes the dying folk feel better when they see him, he says), Alex is smitten and the cosy routine of his life is upended. What transpires is as funny as it is heart-rending. This brilliantly realised multi-layered production plays deftly with our perception of normality while managing to be rippingly entertaining at the same time. All this is helped by Hennie van Greunen's sparkling script and Shirley Ellis' sympathetic direction - and the fact that Pedro Kruger is an accomplished all-round performer who creates characters with an easy physicality while also playing piano and singing a string of catchy narrative songs. Rarely has taboo-busting been this much fun. Nick Awde

David O'Doherty: David O'Doh-party Pleasance
David O'Doherty is so infectiously, well, nice as he delivers acerbic observations on modern life. So nice that he would have a hit on his hands if he merely read out pages from the Fringe programme. And as if to prove it, his latest show is packing them out and, on this particular night at least, the result if one of the most mixed audiences I've seen this festival in terms of age, demographic, nationality, other comics and even critics. O'Doherty gets down to business swiftly. The trademark cheap keyboard gets pulled out regularly - all tacky sounds and cheesy rhythm sections - accompanying rambling ditties that form a seamless extension of the spoken material. Rapport with the crowd is similarly seamless - his opening song, for example, urges mass lowering of expectations of all present as a means of achieving maximum enjoyment of the show, and everyone falls for it, repeating his increasingly absurd mantras with gusto. The show's centrepiece is a startlingly candid account of how a prepubescent glimpse through a telescope of a naked neighbour led to a decade's worth of fantasy. Was it a good or bad thing, he ruminates as he embellishes the story with layer upon layer of teenage male angst. Sex rears its head again plus drugs as he recalls a blissed-out mate on ecstasy jumping into bed with his straitlaced parents. The rants against new technologies such as Twitter and Facebook are a bit throwaway and of the moment, although the put-down of Guitar Hero obsessives is spot-on. In fact you suspect O'Doherty is playing it a little safe this year, and yet his winning storytelling style and sheer confidence in knowing what makes his audience tick make this a masterclass hour of comedy. Nick Awde

Odyssey Pleasance Dome
In a tour-de-force of solo performance, George Mann tells the epic story of Odysseus' journey from Troy, more-or-less in the order Homer told it, and not leaving out much that I could spot - and all on a bare stage in one hour. Mann is a dynamic story-teller, narrating with enthusiasm and colour, and playing all the key roles, from Odysseus and Telemachus through Penelope and Circe. He skilfully individualises each one through voice, posture or some shorthand signifier. Calypso sings her lines in an operatic mode, the leader of the suitors has a Salvador Dali moustache, and the gods come down to earth in a swooping flight we quickly come to recognise. If there is one criticism to make of Mann's performance style, it is that the determination to accompany almost every word with a gesture, and to fill in any pauses with other gestures, sometimes makes him seem to be providing his own simultaneous sign language translation, and he might consider Hamlet's advice not to saw the air too much with his hands. Still, the mode gets less distracting as we get used to it and get caught up in what is, after all, one of the greatest adventure stories ever told.
Gerald Berkowitz

Oh, My Green Soapbox Pleasance
Lucy Foster's solo show is a delightful piece of theatre mixing performance genres, whimsical comedy, audience interaction and some beautiful stage images. It's a utopian production about the threat to the polar bear and the icecaps, an ecocritically alert piece that is entirely distinctive and charming. Foster starts the audience involvement from the beginning. Her humour is zany, a little whimsical, creeping up on you with its odd, quirky vision of the world. A surreal quality comes in the form of video images of Foster dressed in a polar bear suit approaching people in the street. At one point, Foster end up in bed with one of the audience members. She takes him on a miniature journey across the icecaps and the mountains. Her script is evocative, elegant, glinting with moments of tenderness and wistfulness. This is a brave, understated show, a wonderfully poised, multi-layered text that plants lines in the mind that linger on. Foster urges us to 'give in to the proximity of another body' at one point: sex is, or could be, something beautiful in this new white world. The piece ends with one of the simplest and most beautiful images I have seen in the theatre recently. I recall it vividly now as I write these and know I won't forget it for a long time.William McEvoy

The One and the Many GRV
Flustered by a date that doesn't happen, alienated by his flatmate's slick Swiss Toni-style advice on how to seduce the opposite sex, appalled when his longlost adoptive mother turns up at the door leading to a bizarre case of mistaken identity with said flatmate, our ever so slightly naive protagonist Martin could be forgiven his exasperation with the innate selfishness of humankind. We can easily understand too why he needs relief and heads out for a long relaxing massage. Unfortunately, and entertainingly predictably, he asked his flatmate for a recommendation and has now ended up baffled but partially relieved in a brothel. Ah, and did I mention that he has just fallen for the veiled Virgin Whore of Prague, the infinite beauty of whose face strikes terror into the man who observes her? Trevor Lock's 'romantic philosophical' comedy plays neatly on our expectations but the premise is slight and it reads more like an extended sketch than the sitcom pilot it should be. While the surreal misunderstandings create a very genuine humour helped by well-rounded characters, you just wish there was a bit more for these clearly talented performers - Lock, Tom Fynn and Jen Brister - to sink their teeth into. Playing it more romantically or expanding on the Bottom potential, for example, would either way up the comic ante and allow the audience to laugh where we so clearly want to. Nick Awde

Andrew O'Neill: Occult Comedian Downstairs at the Tron
'Occult Comedian' is the subtitle of Andrew O'Neill's latest show and it does what it says on the tin: he's a comedian and occultist. Oh, and he's wearing a dress. Plunging into a flood of rapid thoughts on history, philosophy, politics, religion, sex and Satan, in no particular order, O'Neill packs in more gags and info than anyone else on the circuit - probably. And he's wearing a dress. The subjects just whizz by: occultist ubermeister Aleister Crowley's sexual predilections, the Devil has the best jokes, why be an online vegan anarchist, the BNP and World War II, world-turning differences between death metal, black metal and hardcore. You also start to realise that O'Neill honestly wears his beliefs on his sleeve. And he's wearing a dress. The comic is a fully paid-up part-time transvestite. The fact he's also heterosexual cues in a mad routine about how to act like a full-blooded bloke when trying to get served down the High Street in a goth frock plus devising strategies for deterring queerbashers, usually in Camden Town. The dark arts might seem an unlikely launching pad for comedy but I doubt you'll find a funnier (and more thought-provoking) hour. Well, unless of course you're transphobic, homophobic, a Nazi or Christian teen pop group the Jonas Brothers (for legal reasons I am unable to reveal why O'Neill has put a £5,000 bounty on all their virginities). Nick Awde

Ophelia (Drowning) Sweet Grassmarket
Staged in an atmospheric hotel swimming pool, Ophelia (drowning) is an exploration of Shakespeare's tragic character from Hamlet. Based in part on a play by Deborah Levy as well as the original, Levy's dialogue works better than Shakespeare's, which can feel stilted when taken out of context. Helen Morton gives a committed performance as Ophelia and Rose Walker is solid support as Gertrude, helped largely by a text that is geared towards exploring their characters. Less successful are Pete Wheller as the Prince and Serafina Kiszko as the Lover, a newly added character. They lack complexity, but then there is little for them to do except jump in and out of the pool and kiss. Daniel Marchese Robinson and Daniel Pitt's direction is at its best when they create simple but striking imagery that exploits the uniqueness of the venue. Flowers and clothes litter the pool and are beautifully uplit through the water, an effect that could have been developed further. But the text eventually lets the production down. Lyrics from pop songs are also used as dialogue - this is more often confusing than insightful. An interesting production that needed a more innovative use of the venue and a more cohesive text to work fully. Christopher Harrisson

Optimism Royal Lyceum Theatre
From the day it was published in 1759, Voltaire's classic novel Candide has captured imaginations thanks to its wicked lampooning of those seeking higher meaning in the appalling things that happen on earth. Retitled Optimism, the satire is given new life by plunging 18th-century protagonists into a 21st-century world of air travel and globalisation. In Malthouse Melbourne's reimagining, a string of oddball characters insist that Òall is for the bestÓ as every conceivable misfortune afflicts them, all the while observed by the baffled Candide. Only too aware that his own life is freefalling towards similar ill fate, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery where, like all good picaresques, he encounters the strangest of races and rogues, and has improbable reunions in farflung places - the Americas and the Ottoman Empire feature prominently. Frank Woodley is a convincingly hangdog Candide, whose doleful asides and adlibs establish an immediate rapport with both the audience and the rest of what is a hard-working, energetic cast. But while Tom Wright's script is strewn with enticing roles and situations, it ultimately undermines their promise by sacrificing content for form. What allegory there may be for a modern audience rests mainly on the visual material, such as the airplane cabin and subsequent crash. Also supportive are mood-setting songs such Altered Images' I Could Be Happy, delivered in ironically lugubrious tones. The real dichotomy, however, lies in the fact that whereas Anna Tregloan's slick metal set and costumes belong on an EIF stage, the fringe-styled play under Michael Kantor's direction does not. That, combined with utter disbelief at a company that finds a blacked-up Slave funny, fatally undermines this production. Nick Awde

The Origin of Species Pleasance
Remarkably inventive, thoroughly entertaining and even quite educational, John Hinton's monologue with music in the guise of Charles Darwin is a show for adults that reminds you what you always wished theatre in schools had been like. We find Darwin in his study, happily working on his years-long study of barnacles until he learns that Alfred Russel Wallace is about to pip him to the post on evolution. Having attended a school that specialised in Latin grammar and acoustical guitar, Hinton's Darwin has already covered much of his life story in song, and now he explains natural selection with absolute clarity and a funky beat. He is aided by audience members recruited to illustrate, among other things, the mating habits of finches, and by the suggestion that Darwin's uncle Josiah Wedgewood may have mastered more than one kind of pot. This is either an extraordinarily effective piece of teaching disguised as entertainment or a delightful entertainment that somehow carries more weight than you'd expect from a solo comic show. In either case, nineteenth-century science can rarely have been so fascinating, and never so much fun. Gerald Berkowitz

Origins Pleasance
What better way to understand Charles Darwin's life and work but to apply his own method to it! Writers Steven Canny and John Nicholson take Darwin for his word on the importance of genetics, and go right back to Charles's grandfather Erasmus in order to bestow on him the role of this particular story's frisky narrator. They must have skipped Dr Robert Darwin because Charles' father - played with humour by Joseph Alford - seemed to have no interest in un-useful pursuits. The five strong ensemble piece together Charles' early life with balletic elegance in a theatrical fantasy featuring plenty of entertainment, mesmerising artistry and intriguing insights. Who would have thought that young Charles' greatest ambition was to be a beetle, or that an early encounter with a garden worm, followed by those with a few eccentric professors and a freed South American slave, would have resulted in such a 'marvel of interconnectedness' that has changed our view of the entire species. Directed by Pentabus' Orla O'Loughlin, the show revolves around numerous adventures, involves some well known Victorian personalities, as well as picnics, puppets and an animated insectarium; and most importantly - it is quite 'useful' after all. Duska Radosavljevic

Orphans Traverse
Danny and Helen are having a quiet dinner at home when her brother Liam appears, covered in blood. The explanation is innocent - he had helped a wounded man in the street. But it takes so long to come out, since none of these three people is very good at sustaining a thought long enough to complete a sentence, that they keep getting sidetracked into digressions, some of which open emotional minefields of their own, which they then have to struggle to focus on and address. And then it appears that the bloody encounter wasn't all that innocent after all. Dennis Kelly's play is about the mad world and disintegrating social order that waits just outside the doors of modern urban dwellers, and about what happens when it passes the threshold and comes inside. It is about discovering how very fragile one's own confidence in not being a sociopath can become, and how difficult it is to sustain relationships of any sort in such a world, especially when these call for mental and emotional processes which have not previously been so tested. And, in an odd way, it is frequently quite funny. Among the questions the play raises and makes dramatically real is whether it is still possible to say 'I'm not the sort of person who would do that' when you have just done the thing in question. And if that does make you the sort of person who would do that, then what happens to all the other things in your life that you have built on the assumption that you weren't? Kelly's play may have one or two too many plot twists along the way, sometimes threatening to push it into soap opera territory, and the ending may be a bit rushed and undeveloped, but it is always engrossing to watch and to mull over afterwards. Under director Roxana Silbert's guidance Claire-Louise Cordwell as Helen trying desperately to keep her hold on a crumbling reality, Jonathan McGuinness as Danny learning things about himself no one should have to, and especially Joe Armstrong as Liam with a troubled soul and a mental ability inadequate to deal with it all give impeccable performances.
Gerald Berkowitz

Out of Chaos Underbelly
Every once in a while there comes a show which owes its origins to the unique chemistry of the group of people who came together to make it. Here we have one Spaniard, one Dane, one Japanese and three Brits comparing their personal stories to those of the Greek gods and heros. It sounds surprisingly simple - yet it works as a magic formula, responsible for a good hour of fine entertainment and enlightenment. Even while listening to entire stories in a language as foreign as Japanese, you'll find yourself nodding with a smile of recognition. Stories of Prometheus' arrogance, Zeus' philandering, Thethis' fickleness and Narcissus' - well, narcissism - will all find their common everyday equivalents whether in the London underground, a busy bar, a family dinner table or a child's bedroom. Temple Theatre enhance their storytelling with some clever editing techniques and an impressively rich physical vocabulary that lends their show an easy flow and visual charm. Whether you are in it for the Greeks or for personal pleasure - you will find order in this exhilarating chaos, and are bound to come out satisfied. Duska Radosavljevic

Oxford Revue Underbelly
I'm afraid that the implicit annual competition of revues between Cambridge and Oxford (with Durham frequently topping both) has been won by Cambridge this year. Oxford's entry is made up almost entirely of great ideas for sketches, but not the sketches themselves. You can imagine the delight when someone suggested Slumdog Deal Or No Deal, but they haven't found much to do with it. Parodies of Neighbours and TV infomercials hardly seem worth the effort any more, and the idea of the vowels having a party and not inviting Y unsurprisingly turns out not to be funny. There are some clever twists and sketches that work, usually the brief blackouts not extended beyond their natural life - a nice twist on the obligatory Harry Potter joke, an explanation of why Wally is hiding, guesses as to where Freud, Shakespeare and Darwin got their inspiration. There's nothing wrong with blackout gags and, given this group's evident strengths and weaknesses, a whole hour of quickies might have been a refreshing success. Gerald Berkowitz

Palace of the End Traverse
Judith Thompson's drama is made up of three independent monologues related to the Iraq War, two by real people and one by an imagined composite figure. The first, My Pyramids, was actually performed independently in Edinburgh a couple of years ago, and imagines the voice of US soldier Lynndie England, infamously photographed abusing prisoners in Abu Ghraib. The second presents David Kelly, the civil servant who blew the whistle on exaggerated estimates of Iraqi weaponry and later killed himself, and the third is an imagined Iraqi woman who testifies to the atrocities of the Saddam regime but fears that the liberators may not prove much better. Clearly Thompson is not shy about her political position, and your reaction to the monologues will depend to a large extent on your own political sympathies. As strong as the last two speeches are, they assume your agreement and don't do very much to argue the case or to develop the characters into anything more than spokespersons. That's what makes the first monologue the best written, because Thompson's version of Lynndie is trying to defend herself and her actions, and only gradually and unconsciously lets slip evidence that unacknowledged racism, a desire to fit in with her macho buddies and a cultural history of casual cruelty and violence lubricated the way toward going too far. Put another way, Lynndie is the only one of the three to undergo any sort of change or growth, and thus the only one to actually be in a play. All three actors give impressive performances, with Kellie Bright (Lynndie) the most complex and textured, Robert Demeger the most subtle and understated and Eve Polycarpou the most eloquent and passionate. Gerald Berkowitz

Pan Pa'Tim New Town Theatre
Primate Theatrical Percussion from Venezuala bring us this loud carnival of a show with energy, clownlike humour and some of the most skilful beatbox and body-as- instrument music you're likely to see. From the humdrum noises of an office orchestrated into a symphony of drumming, to the stamping, clapping, body-slapping, clicking and singing elsewhere, the company perform with consummate delight in their own talent. A sink, taps and cutlery are turned into drumsticks and snares, while the human voice is used with a kind of anarchic, frenzied exhilaration. The dancing, too, has a kind of frenetic quality as the drumbeats force the performers to push their bodies to extremes of abandonment. The clownish humour, the not-so-subtle games with gender, the feeling of a Brazilian street carnival, all combine in riotous fashion. A cursory attempt at a plot sees a female Japanese restaurant owner oppressing her staff, who manifest their irritation and subversiveness by playing out noises in and through their bodies. At several points, the audience gets to join in the impromptu music-making, and by the end, people are whooping in their seats. Just the antidote to a soggy Fringe, this show transports you to the street sounds of Caracas in a wonderfully uplifting hour's performance. William McEvoy

Parents' Evening ECA
Ritual humiliation of one kind or another will be part of most people's memories of their school days. The same is the case with this show which promises to introduce you to the teachers 'you wish you'd had' but delivers the usual stereotypes - ranging from a sexy French teacher to a scatter-brained Head of History and a hollering PE one. The victims of humiliation here are the parents rather than the students, as well as one unfortunate head mistress, played with great poise by Lauren Garnham. There is a catch in it of course, contained in the fact that the title role here is given to the audience members themselves. One sure sign of professional naivity - often betraying a show's studenty origins - is an overly optimistic expectation of the audience's willingness to take part. On home turf this can be a lot of fun, but elsewhere, it can veer towards the positively cringe-making. This show is made up entirely of audience participation involving singing in unison, a history quiz and a sports competition - so you'd better have friends in Aultyme High. Duska Radosavljevic

Party Assembly
There is always something slightly awkward about a theatre production of a script crafted to be a sitcom. For a start, the genre uses very little of the available medium other than the live audience response. This particular production therefore receives a very still and minimalist theatrical incarnation, even at times feeling a bit squashed in the chosen venue. On the other hand however, Tom Basden's script and the ensemble performance of him and his fellow cast members, are slick and timed to perfection. Two years after winning the If Comedy Best Newcomer award, Basden has returned this year not just with another stand up show, but also with a proof that he has more comic tricks up his sleeve. Party is a character comedy served as a feast of truly brilliant one-liners and laced with, at times, seriously lethal satire. As five friends get down to defining 'pillaging', political correctness and foreign policy, it quickly transpires that this is not an ordinary after-dinner game but an altogether different kind of social gathering that goes under the name of a 'party'. Or at least a party in the making, and in want of leadership. Fun and fascinating from start to finish.Duska Radosavljevic

The Penny Dreadfuls Present The Never Man Pleasance
This three-man company are currently the leading practitioners of a Fringe staple, the silly-plot, small-cast-playing-many-roles, self-referential, mistakes-written-in farce - think of Little Britain or The League of Gentlemen done live, with the difficulty of all the quick costume changes part of the fun. This year's show somehow combines a mad scientist using a theme park for his nefarious plans, a man with total amnesia, various boffins, an ex-cop and an eight-year-old boy, all played by the three writer-performers, David Reed, Humphrey Ker and Thom Tuck. And so it's part mock-horror story, part boy's-own adventure, and part pure absurdity, as when a pair of clones look about as similar as Danny Devito and Arnold Schwartznegger in Twins. Sooner or later someone is going to forget which role he's playing, or not going to have time for a costume change, or just have a fit of the giggles. If the plot works its way out by the end of the hour - and you can't assume that coming in - it will be by the most unlikely means. And the whole thing is just too silly to resist. If I have any reservation, it is that I've seen this sort of thing done with more relentless speed by others, and the PDs are a little too easy on themselves for my taste.Gerald Berkowitz

Philberto Pleasance
This alter-ego of London-based comic Milo McCabe assures us he is a big star in his native Portugal, being the runner-up in a particularly bizarre variant on Big Brother. His supposed adventures on that program, including some extreme tasks and challenges you wouldn't be too astonished to find Big Brother driven to, make up one of the running themes of his current show, along with a lifetime of sibling rivalry with a brother who always manages at the last moment to top any of his achievements, and the adventures of a foreigner in London. That last strand leads to a couple of semi-musical interludes, a rap on proper tube escalator decorum and a search for cheeky Cockneys like Dick Van Dyke. He also touches on strategies for watching porn movies while your parents are in the house, and the strange food preferences of the English. But even more impressive than his prepared material are his easy engagement with the audience and his unforced but sharp-witted ad libs, successfully coping on this occasion with a drunken audience member who persisted in thinking she was the co-star of a double act.
Gerald Berkowitz

Plagiarismo! New Town Theatre
Plagiarism, if you haven't already guessed, is the theme of Richard DeDomenici's latest show where he offers a quirky, bizarre yet inevitably informative PowerPoint ride through the subject of grand larceny in the murky world of intellectual copyright. It seems that nothing is sacred - or new - under the sun. And everyone is at it, right up to national corporations and international stars who should know better. Even Rupert Murdoch and the BBC have been caught in the act, exposed as (allegedly) serial rip-off merchants. Music emerges as a favourite theme, one recurrent example being the legal ramifications of exactly how many notes in a row you can get away with lifting before someone cries 'foul'. Meanwhile, in-depth analysis reveals the uncertain provenance of hits from Pussycat Dolls, Girls Aloud and even Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'. With relish DeDomenici enumerates the cash hand-outs record companies have been forced to give aggrieved songwriters. A tad uncomfortable in the cramped, sweaty confines of the New Town studio (suspiciously resembling a tiled sauna), DeDomenici barely manages to keep the energy above lecture level. Nevertheless, despite his avowed subversive performance artist status, there is more than enough comic material here to keep you chuckling long after the show's end. Nick Awde

The Play About Charlotte C Soco
A young woman playwright suffering from writer's block and a loss of confidence is newly inspired by meeting a vital and seductive prostitute. But the new friend's attraction threatens the writer's relationship with her boyfriend and eventually the stability of her mind, leading her to both seek and resist the help of a psychiatrist. Hannah Patterson's new play takes too long, with too many plot twists and surprise revelations (some telegraphed long in advance), to discover that it about the pain of the blocked creative impulse, pausing along the way to flirt with being domestic drama, sex comedy and psychological thriller instead. Still, the digressions are eventually discarded, and the diverse strands are brought together in inventive ways, as when an early scene is later replayed with the roles switched around among the characters to depict and illuminate the woman's emotional confusion. Amy Marchant touchingly captures a woman in psychological trouble quite believably resisting aid that might be even more painful, while Helen Kennedy communicates the attraction of a woman different enough to be almost an alter ego, and Edmund Digby-Jones and Pierre Tailleux anchor the play as the only two characters certain at all times that they are functioning in the real world. Gerald Berkowitz

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

Precious Little Talent Bedlam
The author of this short play, Ella Hickson, has an abundance of ideas but not quite the discipline or skill to control them, so her play spins off in too many directions instead of cohering. But all that means is that Precious Little Talent is a flawed play by a real writer, and that's a lot more interesting and exciting than a well-made play by someone with no real promise. On one level, the play is a standard rom-com, with a couple who meet cute and then discover a complication - in this case, he works for her father. But the boy's job is as carer for the man, who is in the first stages of Alzheimer's, and the father desperately does not want his daughter to find out. And on top of that, father and daughter are English and the boy American, and Hickson puts a lot of weight on the ingrained pessimism of the one and instinctive optimism of the other. So there are at least three different plays there, and a more skilled technician than Hickson is at this point might have been able to unify any two, though probably not all three. There are several very well-written scenes that testify to Hickson's talent and give her cast opportunities to shine - Simon Ginty as the boy excitedly describing the couple's magical meeting and Emma Hiddleston's later slightly more clear-eyed account of the same event, John McColl explaining how unbearable it would be to have his daughter watch him forget her, and Hiddleston seeing the inauguration of President Obama as representing everything about the American spirit she envies. Gerald Berkowitz

Matt Price GRV
The full title of Matt Price's show is My Girlfriend Was Attacked By A Small-Time Wannabe Gangster And This Is What I Did About It. His girlfriend was indeed very badly beaten up by a neighbourhood tough, and Matt's reaction was to go to a couple of hardmen he knew and ask for their help, either in dealing with the bastard for him or giving him the tools to do it himself. They talked him out of it, mainly by convincing him that he didn't want to become the person vengeance would make him, but now he is still haunted by feelings of guilt and inadequacy. He admits that the purpose of his current show is primarily to work out a kind of self-therapy, which raises some questions about the morality of his inviting paying audiences expecting an hour of comedy. Price does allow some humour to slip in to his monologue, mainly in his account of doing a show to the criminally insane inhabitants of Broadmoor Prison, but it is clear that he is looking more for hugs than laughs from his audience, and the sincerity of his story does move at least some listeners to forget their expectations and respond to his emotional appeal. Gerald Berkowitz

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Assembly Hall
Muriel Spark's schoolteacher is one of those characters who has entered our cultural DNA, and you know her and her story even if you have never read the novel or seen the play or film. Among other things, Jay Presson Allan's stage version is a marvellous vehicle for a strong and charismatic actress, and the major reason for seeing this new production is Anna Francolini's brave and innovative performance. I call it brave because Francolini resists the temptation to make this teacher who dominates and shapes her students with her charm seem charming to us. If the schoolgirls see the ideal woman they would follow anywhere, Francolini shows us the egotistical martinet and charlatan revelling in their adoration. The plot centres on her attempts not only to inspire her coterie of acolytes, but to shape them in the images she has chosen for them, and of one in particular who rebels against this determinism. And Laurie Sansom's production has much in it to please the eye and ear, not least his use of a larger chorus of schoolgirls to create a sense of a world around the central characters and, incidentally, to provide beautifully choreographed set changes. But the dominant attraction is the cool and sharp-edged characterisation by Anna Francolini, which enables us to see exactly why the girls fall under the spell of Jean Brodie without becoming overly enchanted ourselves. Gerald Berkowitz

Private Peaceful Udderbelly's Pasture (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
You'll be seeing quite a few plays about World War I as the centenary of its years of carnage creeps up on us, but Private Peaceful has to be among the best of the crop. Based on a story by best-selling children's author Michael Morpurgo and adapted by Simon Reade, this is the tragic yet gripping tale of a young soldier at the Western Front. As Tommo Peaceful waits for dawn and the firing squad, the condemned private tells us of his short life and the events that have led to his being sentenced to death for cowardice. He introduces us to his home in rural Devon, his family and neighbours and the news of approaching war and joining up to fight. Barely has he arrived at the front than he is sent on a trench raid, whose successful outcome proves that he is made of the right stuff. And yet old rivalries raise their head when he falls foul of an NCO from back home and when the day comes to go over the top for the big one it explodes in murderous no-man's land. Everyone involved in this production has done their homework on what is still a controversial part of our history, and every detail convinces from the recreation of the raid to the way Tommo puts on his puttees. Only the ending perhaps takes one step too far from reality since, paradoxically, death would be a just sentence but one that would also be commuted under the complex circumstances of Tommo's story. Nick Awde

Pullman Car Hiawatha Augustine's
This show should be bad. The actors forget their lines, the costumes and set are shoddy and the direction is blunt and awkward. However, the result is a rather rough but charming piece of theatre that somehow leaves one feeling curiously uplifted. Pullman Car Hiawatha by Thornton Wilder takes place in the lower berth of a sleeper car, circa 1930. What starts as a routine study of each of the characters takes a turn for the metaphysical, with ghosts and planets entering the story. A helpful narrator guides the audience through the plot with many witty asides. The script is gentle but with the occasional twist and turn, as well as some pleasing theatrical inventiveness. Most of the enjoyment comes through the exuberance of the cast. There is evidently a great dynamic among them and the vibrancy of performance is entirely infectious.This warmth is carried through from beginning to end, lending itself to several touching moments. It isn't the most polished show in the Fringe, but it is perhaps one of the most endearing. Christopher Harrisson

Pythonesque Underbelly
After dissecting Spike Milligan in Ying Tong and the Beyond the Fringe crew in Good Evening, Roy Smiles returns with Monty Python as his latest subject. This new comedy reunites him with Ying Tong director Michael Kingsbury, and it looks like a winning combination once more. Admittedly the history of the Pythons has been told and retold right across the media but Smiles' ingenious solution is to narrate via vignettes of different genres fused together by a self-referential and entertainingly metatheatrical framework. Most obvious are the scenes where he uses iconic Python sketches to expound biographical events: Eric Idle auditions John Cleese for the Cambridge Footlights with Idle in full-blown 'nudge-nudge wink-wink' mode while the Four Yorkshiremen lament the passing of the golden age of TV rather then life down the pit. It's an ambitious script from Smiles that Kingsbury deftly picks up and runs with, and with a little more tweaking the production deserves to tour and tour - and ideally with this cast. As a deadpan, stiff upper-lipped John Cleese, Mark Burrell threatens to steal the show, while Chris Polick oozes prickly charm as Graham Chapman. Doubling up are Matt Addis, alternating cuddliness and thoughtful absurdity as Michael Palin and Terry Jones, and James Lance, who manfully goes over the theatrical top to portray the equally manic Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam. Although the actors (no moonlighting stand-ups here) are not deadringers, it is thrilling to see such eclectic talent assembled on one stage in a way we have rarely seen since, well, the Python Golden Age. Nick Awde

Randy's Postcards From Purgatory Underbelly
Randy is a self-confessed 'cynical booze-hound with an attitude problem', and with a day-time job in children's entertainment. He is no stranger to drunken one night stands, failed career prospects and all manner of generally self-destructive behaviour - summed up through a choice selection of anecdotes from his twenties and thirties, featuring stints in a rock band, a religious cult and in TV industry. In other words, Randy is a regular bloke going through a mid-life crisis - with the exception that he is made out of foam and purple felt. The Australian entertainer Heath McIvor imbues his creation with such an irresistable personality, wit and charm that his comedy show suffers from no lack of audience participation. Gardening fans need no coaxing to chip in on cue in this show, while otherwise bashful ladies hasten to share recipes involving majoram. In addition to one of the finest characterisations on the Fringe, numerous costume changes and a slick script make this show a real joy to watch. And to top it all, the notion of off the cuff wit will acquire a whole new meaning as you watch Randy hypnotise objects into their place or deal with unexpected accidents. Eat your heart out, Jim Henson, Randy's here to stay well past retirement age! Duska Radosavljevic

Re___ Gilded Balloon
Freddy Syborn's self-directed play is an odd concoction of biography and the imaginative recreation of the life of Rev Harold Davidson, a First World War chaplain. With its self-consciously experimental script and some leaden performances, the play loses focus, the central character remaining hard to grasp by the end. Its opening conceit sees two characters in a cage on either side of the stage. They are callers to a radio phone-in show, trying to guess a word or phrase beginning with RE, hence the show's title. Recto-vaginal? Red Dress? Red Mist? Regret? The actors embody several different characters as this scene recurs throughout. Susie Chrystal as Amy, David Isaacs as Frank and Adam Lawrence as Dominic perform their parts with intensity. At times, the script has a fragmented, poetic quality, especially a letter reading scene in which two speakers' words start accidentally coinciding and interweaving. But often swathes of unfocused dialogue and a lack of conviction in the delivery dominate. The writing can feel portentous, and the slow-moving pace is a challenge for the audience. Syborn's direction is fairly uninspired, the actors looking uncomfortable in the small stage space, often delivering their dialogue outwards rather than engaging with each other. William McEvoy

RealiTV Spaces on the Mile
As the debate hots up over in America over NHS 'death panels' that decide who should live and who should die, here in Edinburgh the subject has been uncannily pre-empted in this zippy satire about healthcare and reality TV. That 'reality' is Big Brother meets Your Life in Their Hands where the public gets to vote on contestants who are seriously or terminally ill, banged up in the BB House for months with the victor winning free medical care for the rest of their life. We are already down to three contestants who have to complete their present tasks or risk forfeiting their medication. Sensitive Nathan (Luke Emsley) is in to win a complex drug regime to control his Aids complications, a kidney transplant means that prickly Jess (Theresa Brunskill) will beat her otherwise fatal congenital kidney disease, and dippy but desperate Emma (Tamara Lucas) may commit suicide if she cannot get the IVF she needs to conceive. Meanwhile scheming behind the scenes to boost the ratings are slimy presenter (Morna McDonald) and marginally less so psychiatrist (Shaun Nerthcott), who concoct increasingly cynical ploys to mess with the lives of these human lab rats. The combination of Suzanne Enoch's snappy script and direction with this hardworking cast create unexpected depths in this little gem of a show. At first a little unfocused production-wise, it all comes together neatly as you start laughing at the characters' predicament while simultaneously feeling immense sympathy for their plight - and the awkward question is very deliberately planted in the audience of who would you save? Nick Awde

Regret Me Not Pleasance
Unnervingly spot-on, unsettling funny, Andrea Donovan unveils a gallery of characters that are each assertive in their own way yet each with a regret. And although at first sight they mostly appear to be responsible members of society, they are uniformly loonies after you've peeled away the external layers of respectability. Hailing from the North East is the lady whose life classes are punctuated by her trusty flipchart, strewn with aphorisms, truisms and gloriously meaningless slogans. Her malapropisms, largely sexual, hint of disappointments at odds with this otherwise straitlaced middle-aged guru of personal confidence. Next up is the posh twentysomething whose clipped tones and breathy delivery are straight out of the pages of Hello! magazine, while her reminiscences of teenage exploits and derring-do are plucked from Enid Blyton's Famous Five, just darker. An Antipodean swimming instructress then bounds on. Ponytailed, track-besuited and surgically attached to her clipboard, she harangues a group of lazy sixthformers over a recent unfortunate accident until she's shouting madly out of the back of the venue at misbehaving youngsters in the distance. The Scottish single mother with older kids lets us into the minutiae of her 'restricted lifestyle' and sadly recalls her gameful attempts to keep up with her more outgoing mates. The mood darkens with the Midlands librarian whose low level OCD is painfully at odds with her cheery efforts to pass an interview to adopt a child. Oh, let's not forget the American of a certain age who successfully blends a refuge for prairie dogs with balletic yoga while yearning for a dancing career that never was. Subtly observed, at times scary and always deliciously loopy, Donovan's portraits reveal not only a consummate comic actor but also an enviable writing talent. Nick Awde

Rich Hall's Campfire Stories Assembly
Part shaggy dog story, part commentary on our strange modern life, Rich Hall's latest play lovingly plunders every metaphor to be found in hymns to the outdoor life, in this case flyfishing in the Montana wilderness. Recently widowed Rich is soaking up the solitude up a river in the hills. It's midge season but the biggest bug is Mike, aimlessly avoiding the campsite where he is holed up with his internet date Olive for the weekend. Olive, it transpires, might prove an even bigger bug. Desperate for company, Mike gamely fails to learn how to flyfish or appreciate the zen-like philosophising that goes with the sport. Despite losing Rich's top trout fly, Mike still manages to get the prickly fisherman to join him for an evening over a bottle of bourbon by his campfire. As the unlikely buddies, Hall and Mike Wilmot do a passable Lemmon and Matthau, and Tim Williams' craggy features make him perfectly suited as the chorus-like fly maker. Ironic allusions to eulogising outdoor activities and Mother Nature abound, while the trappings of modern life are simultaneously mocked. As a laughter-filled hour of ad-libs and infectious corpsing this is value for your money, but the moments that stick are those that actually follow the script. Writing is something that Hall takes seriously and so, with tighter direction and script, Campfire Stories could become the great slice of work it promises to be. Nick Awde

Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes Augustine's
The beauty of this wonderful show lies in its simplicity: two brilliant performers, two of Roald Dahl's classic books and one hour of pure entertainment. Rather than attempting to adapt the original stories, Clewis Productions' Clem Silverman and Lewis Baker simply take turns to read while the other mimes along, unsqueamishly roaring, burping and dribbling, much to the simultaneous delight and horror of the audience. It is the comic physical flourishes that give the show its extra sparkle, managing to capture the unique macabre humour of Roald Dahl's tales. The sections extracted from 'Revolting Rhymes' and the lesser known 'Gory Beasts' are wonderful, whether well-known and much loved or completely fresh. Included are Dahl's grisly retellings of classic fairy stories Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs. Children are invited up from the audience to play their parts roaring as wolves and squealing as pigs. This keeps them almost as delighted and entertained as does a bearded Red Riding Hood, and the use of the male performer's own shoe as Cinderella's slipper. Animated, engaging, energetic and highly amusing, this is storytelling at its best and perfect children's entertainment. Lana Harper

Rogue Males Pleasance
Last year Adam Riches' solo show Alpha Males was a revelation and a deserved hit, a string of character sketches each more original and comic than the last, presented with an irony and mock-macho charm that thoroughly disarmed and engaged an audience. That audience connection is still there in this year's show, and is almost enough to carry the hour, but too much of the script feels like out-takes and B material left over from the previous show. If memory serves, the Australian sex expert, big game hunter and video piracy guy are reprised characters, and the effect is a bit like seeing the umpteenth variant of a TV sketch show character - we're glad to see him again, but the joke is wearing thin. The longest sketch, about the cowardly hunter, is inventive and funny in itself, as is the shorter skit about Daniel Day Lewis as Zorro. So perhaps it is only those who remember last year's show who will be slightly disappointed. Gerald Berkowitz

Scaramouche Jones Assembly (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
Justin Butcher wrote this monologue a decade ago to be performed successfully by others, but now he himself plays the 100-year-old clown on the eve of the Millennium, whose dark and comic memoirs are unforcedly a survey of Twentieth Century history. Imagining him born in the West Indies to a Gypsy mother and unknown English father alludes to the remnants of 19th-century colonialism, taking him to Africa and then the Middle East lets his path obliquely touch figures from T. E. Lawrence to Haile Selassie. As a Gypsy passing through Poland in the 1930s he ends up in a concentration camp, where his attempts to distract frightened children fulfil his calling as a clown. None of this is forced or heavy, and the character is so fully drawn, both in the lush and expressive writing and in Butcher's vital and rounded performance, that the imagined biography is engrossing even without the historical context. Employing many nice small touches, such as the way the veteran performer unconsciously transfers bits of comic business into his offstage behaviour or the way his natural movements have become fluid, almost balletic, Butcher captures both the man's inexhaustible energy and his pathos. Gerald Berkowitz

The School for Scandal Pleasance
Sheridan's classic of back-biting and chicanery among the upper classes is performed by the moonlighting stand-up comics of the Comedians Theatre Company, many of whom use their roles as the springboards for their own signature shtick - and, to the horror of purists and the delight of everyone else, the play proves resilient enough to take it, with Sheridan's humour sitting quite comfortably alongside the modern gags and send-ups. While some in the cast, like Amy Saunders as Lady Sneerwell and Huw Thomas as Sir Oliver, try within the limits allowed them by the others to play their roles relatively straight, others, like Lionel Blair as Sir Peter and Stephen K. Amos as Benjamin Backbite, essentially play themselves, smoothly ad libbing around their lines. And still others go hog-wild in the mugging and broad playing, with Phil Nichol's Joseph Surface and especially Paul Foot's Crabtree happily thumbing their noses at anything remotely resembling restraint. In less skilled hands - and one must assume that director Cal McCrystal retained some minimal control over the cast - this could have been a shambles. But it is great fun, and wholly true to the spirit, if only occasionally to the letter, of the original. Gerald Berkowitz

Screwloose Quaker Meeting House
Hot from the Village Idiots, this mask comedy centring around flat-pack furniture is a rollercoaster of visual jokes - with not a single word spoken. The action is split between the home of a bored couple (she's outgoing, he's not) and a furniture company's returns department (where the bored staff break the tedium in increasingly bizarre ways). A chance bike accident in the street outside plus a flat-pack delivery with missing part bring the two worlds together, and mayhem ensues as the suburban husband embarks on his quest for that elusive part. And could that be love beckoning from behind a clipboard in a warehouse office? Accompanied by a thumping music soundtrack, the cast make playing in masks look easy, and they even find time to react (wordlessly) with the audience when given the chance. It is riveting to see how all the props and plot fall together until not a single part of the versatile set is without a use. There are echoes of Trestle's own mask work (and it is no surprise to find that director Amanda Wilsher has worked with the company) but the selling point here is a strong plot laced with oodles of contemporary references and laughs. Nick Awde

Sea Wall Traverse
Simon Stephens' thirty-minute solo play is a monologue by a man who doesn't want to speak about the things he needs to speak about, or to feel the emotions he needs to face and express. It is about a man who teases a friend about his faith while desperately searching for his own. And it is about a sea wall, that point where the underwater floor suddenly falls away, plunging into unmeasured darkness. Andrew Scott plays the man who not only has the worst possible thing in the world happen, but who witnesses it from a vantage that adds to the horror by making it seem almost beautiful. The actor skilfully captures the seemingly diffident manner of one who seems at first to be rambling about nothing in particular, but whose verbal tics and unfinished sentences are the self-protective devices of a damaged soul circling around the unspeakable. Insightful writing and sensitive performance, both subtle and understated, make for a quietly seductive and ultimately harrowing half-hour.
Gerald Berkowitz

Selective Hearing The Space at The Radisson
Bristol University's Clifton Hill House Edinburgh Project's devised piece is attacked with imagination and enthusiasm, albeit a little misjudged. There are many enjoyable aspects to the show - not least the cleverly constructed scenes with multiple conversations occurring between the large cast, who occupy the stage throughout. The effectively executed and rousing live musical accompaniment and songs also impress. The piece is funny from the start and provides the audience with a string of one-liners and bad chat-up lines as well as the scenes of squirmingly awkward hilarity typical of teenage life. However, the piece continually suffers from its not wholly successful attempts to make serious statements about the potential for adolescent social fascism or when it addresses issues of teenage pregnancy and violence. Furthermore, the core subject matter of the narrative is stretched too thinly, with irrelevant and undeveloped sidelines, such as a love triangle between two female members of staff and an ex-Staples worker. While highly entertaining, these feel more like distractions. This piece would have benefited from fully embracing its more successful farcical elements and revelling in the highly amusing moments of self-referential irony. Oliver Kassman

Serate Bastarde C
Shocking, funny, in yer face and very, very political, Italian satirical comedy may or may not be your cup of cappuccino even when it's translated into English (albeit told in deliciously OTT Italian accents). So here's a raucous taster to help you cross those comic boundaries. The show's title translates as 'Bastard Nights' and it's served up by Milan's Dionisi - aka Renata Ciaravino, Silvia Gallerano and Carmen Pellegrinelli. The de rigueur Berlusconi material might well go over the heads of most Brits but there's a wealth of other material on offer: the (literally) mutilated beauty queen, the live funeral broadcast, the rant about keeping up the right-on lifestyle of a left-wing comedian, and the biting pastiche of 'Fez in the City' where Carrie and mates are transposed to burka-clad Kabul. Burnt flesh and tits pop out when you least expect as does a sperm-filled swimming pool. To be honest, you don't know whether to laugh, cringe or cry - and that's just where Ciaravino and co want you. Dionisi's English version of their brand of satire provides a fascinating comparison for UK audiences. Our own satire has evolved into the sophisticated soapbox of Mark Thomas or the TV reality of Armando Iannucci's In the Thick of It but we lost the authentic hard-nosed stuff after Ben Elton took the piss out of it in the eighties. Now is your chance to rediscover satire as it should be, courtesy of this provocative, incisive trio. Nick Awde

The Shade Ain't Right C Soco
The blurb for this world premier set in a 1920s Harlem club promises a powerful exploration of black-on-black racism and its influence on performers, both during the jazz era and today. The Lincoln Company's show opens very promisingly, with the rich, soulful tones of a young actress, lit strikingly from above. However, unfortunately from here on, the play lets its cast down by failing to offer any compelling characters, or indeed, anything very interesting to work with. The plot follows three performers, one black, one white and one of mixed race, and takes place backstage in the characters' shared dressing room. Facing the audience, they converse through fictional reflections, which would have worked very well had they had anything of any consequence, or even any eloquence, to say. The sole purpose of the play seems to be to highlight the rather obvious fact that sometimes black people are racist too, which really isn't substantial or controversial enough to make for interesting watching, without any new twist on it. The climax of the whole play is a cat-fight between two of the girls, while the other (a white character who seems to have managed to travel to Harlem from the South and remain completely unaware of any racist tension,) watches innocent and horrified. The main offence of this show, however, is that it was completely unmemorable - a particularly unforgivable sin at the Fringe. The cast make a valiant effort with a clumsy premise and bland dialogue Powerful it is not, and just how it ever proposed to answer its tag-line question 'how black is too black?', I am still not sure. Lita Wallis

Shakespeare For Breakfast C
It must be close to twenty years ago that a student group found themselves with an empty morning slot and threw together a Shakespeare pastiche, luring audiences in with free food, and the show - different each year - has become a Fringe staple and a delightful way to start a day. The most common format over the years has been finding some excuse to throw characters from several plays together, to bounce off each other comically. This year they've chosen a kind of Panto version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, that sends the original up inventively while remaining remarkably true to its spirit. So we get a female Puck reciting doggerel rhymes not much worse than Shakespeare's while flirting outrageously with audience members, a panto dame Titania, a posh twit Lysander and Hermia as dim as each other and almost as brain-dead as Helena, a performance of Pyramid and Frisbee and, for reasons that seem to make sense at the time, the dance from Thriller. It is all very clever, all very silly, and all a lot of fun. And you get free coffee and croissants.
Gerald Berkowitz

Show Down C
New York-based Bang Group is a dance company dedicated above all things to the sheer joy of dancing. Headed by choreographer David Parker and principal dancer Jeffrey Kazin, the young company have fun up there, and the fun is infectious - I still grin at the memory of a past show in which Parker danced on a sheet of bubble wrap. This year's show is set to the once-lost Judy Garland soundtrack to Annie Get Your Gun (Set for the role that eventually went to Betty Hutton, Garland got as far as recording the songs before being fired, and the tapes sat on a studio shelf for decades). Parker's choreography touches occasionally on cowboy themes, but is primarily - as is much of his work - about gender. Any time there are three couples onstage, one is likely to be same-sex, and girls are as likely to lift boys as the opposite. Indeed, a kind of running gag has Jeffrey Kazin, who is tall and masculine, repeatedly being lifted or carried, so that he spends almost as much time in the air as on his feet. Fans will recognise some signature Parker movements - the barefoot tapdancing, horizontal carries and intertwined bodies - along with brief and witty allusions to everything from Swan Lake to A Chorus Line. But above all, everyone up there is revelling in the sheer fun of movement, and that joy is irresistible. Gerald Berkowitz

Shed Simove: Ideas Man Belushi's
Shed Simove has an insatiable entrepreneurial curiosity. He invented own currency, dubbed the 'ego', which trades on eBay - his Heads and Tales coin even has his arse in bronze on the back. As a publicity gimmick he legally changed his name to God before turning his skills to devising and marketing novelties such as birthday candles that spell '21 Again', boxes of Credit Crunch cereal, bags of Clitoris Allsorts and a Pubic's Cube game. I'm sure he has a lot more products but it's the saucy ones that get the spotlight. Simove is candid about failure. 'If you dream it you can do it' may be his motto but he happily rolls out meticulous documentation of his more bizarre rejections. A novelty candle range doesn't pan out because of bad packaging ('Three seconds is all you've got to make up your mind') while butt plugs (bums stuck on electrical plugs) founder in development hell, and then he loses £200,000 after a TV documentary falls through. Why? He was the adult who a while ago pretended to be a 16-year-old at a school. Simove is the only one surprised at this particular defeat. Clearly accustomed more to self-publicising than performing, Simove is twitchy in his delivery and needs to direct that febrile imagination towards developing a stage persona. It's ironic that I left uninterested in purchasing a Simove idea but intrigued as to what his next show will be like. Nick Awde

6.0: How Heap and Pebble Took on the World and Won Pleasance
The most exciting and innovative aspect of Valentina Ceschi and Thomas Eccleshare's show is the way in which they cast and guide individual audience members into the role of privileged journalists having an opportunity to interview the star ice-skating duo Heap and Pebble. Genuinely thrilling to watch and yet entirely non-threatening, their gimmick works every time, and progressively so - as there is very little real action that happens in between these rare moments of audience interaction. Ceschi and Eccleshare might rightfully argue that the most important aspect of their show is contained within these pregnant silences filled with the sound of glaciers melting, and sporting careers being reduced to struggling cabaret acts. As a concept this 'climate change parable' gets a 6.0 score, however its artistic realisation, boiling down to a cyclical repetition of that same theme for the whole 60 minutes of the show, is hardly quantifiable at all. It is a pity, for the two have all the charm and prowess of their unnamed muses Torvill and Dean. But at least they also have plenty of time between now and the Olympics to develop their routine to its full topical potential. Duska Radosavljevic

Slave Trader Spaces at Venue 45
You might imagine, when hearing the title Slave Trader, that the play you are about to see is going to deal with the relations between a slave trader and 'his' slaves. Or that it will explore the importance of the slave trade in the accumulation of great wealth in the West. So did I. How wrong I was. This company thought it expedient to focus on the family problems of an alcoholic and abusive slave trader. The audience is forced to watch an almost exclusively white cast declaim how bad everyone feels about being associated with slavery and how hard it is to live with a drunk. Historically accurate and absolutely fascinating, I'm sure everyone will agree. The only non-white performer in the cast plays the slave. Not only is this painfully unintelligent directing but his oppression is also staged absolutely uncritically. The audience cringes at every use of the n-word (thrown in randomly when most of the time the term 'black people' is used) and dies a little when the slave starts a prayer by 'I have a dream, I have a dream that one day . . .' Finally, this production would have been acceptable if its only flaws were bad acting, poor direction and no attention to the times in which the action is set. But no, this production also staged a portrayal of slavery that seems to come straight out of the 1930s and is highly objectionable. Simon Englert

The Sociable Plover Assembly
The bird called the sociable plover is paradoxically a loner, a singleton characteristically blown away from its flock by a storm and forced to hang out with other breeds until it finds its way home. And in Tim Whitnall's play it is not clear at first which of the two characters most resembles the titular bird. Birdwatcher Roy, played by Guy Masterson, is certainly a loner, camped out in his blind in hopes of spotting a plover, the last remaining unticked box in his log. But it is Ronnie Toms' Dave, taking refuge from the weather in Roy's hut, who seems most out of his element. Neither of them naturally inclined to be sociable, they do gradually engage in grudging conversation, during which we learn that Roy is so dull his wife left him for an insurance man, while Dave is a hardman, perhaps the fugitive mentioned in police broadcasts. The play will eventually have some surprise twists and an ironic ending, but its real strengths lie in the first half, as the actors, directed by the playwright, introduce and establish the characters with efficiency and subtlety. The first five minutes or so are silent, as Masterson enters, fussily tidies up and methodically lays out his gear, and between laughs of recognition the audience learns all it needs to know (it thinks) about the character. And Toms, through a string of taciturn comments and responses, keeps us guessing about his character, repeatedly surprising us with a new facet we hadn't anticipated. The story ultimately becomes more than a bit gimmicky, but it is in the characterisations and performances that the pleasures of the hour lie.
Gerald Berkowitz

The Sound of My Voice Assembly
Ron Butlin's novel and Jeremy Raison's stage adaptation centre on an alcoholic of a particular sort, one who is jolly, witty, personable and actually quite functional when drunk, but only in danger of losing control as he begins to sober up and has to fight frantically to re-establish the buzz. Raison makes it a near-monologue for actor Billy Mack, who slowly and subtly exposes the depths of his dependence while the dubious reliability of his reportage slips out as we get external evidence of more time spent drinking than he let on, or of more liquor disappearing. It is then that we also begin to see that his wife is choosing to ignore rather than not noticing, that his daughter is walking on eggshells, and that his secretary is doing a lot of covering for him. It is late in the script before the central character acknowledges his problem and faces the frightening prospect of trying to make it sober one day at a time. With the playwright directing, Billy Mack gives a bravura performance that also gradually and sensitively peels away the layers of denial and self-delusion to expose a character who just may have a greater core of strength than he himself realises, while Michelle Gallagher quietly draws us into the secrets of the three women in his life. Gerald Berkowitz

Stalag Happy Underbelly
The odd bout of Nazi violence aside, this slice of life in a POW camp during World War II celebrates the vibrant camaraderie that existed amongst Allied servicemen despite the trauma of their incarceration. Based on fact, it focuses on the lasting friendship that developed between two of the UK's key post-war artists, Adrian Heath and Terry Frost. Heath, an RAF rear gunner, spots commando Frost struggling to paint and cajoles the budding artist into doubling as a look-out for the tunnel he is digging. Although Heath's jailbreak exploits keep landing him in solitary, whenever he is released the pair build on the affinity that bonds them. Guided by Heath, Frost gains confidence and is soon doing the portrait of a soldier who complains that his hair is blue - Frost admits he has no other colours left thanks to prison austerity. When not imagining visits to art galleries, the pair dream up daytrips to Margate and dances in the arms of their ideal women. Dan Frost (Frost's grandson in real life) and Edward Elks are an impressive double act who nail the cheeky chappiness without a hint of sentimentality. A lack of physicality means that they do not make character transitions as successfully as they deserve, and yet the performances ooze confidence. The pair's co-written script sparkles making this a production that will make a successful transition to longer play, radio play or even film. Nick Awde

The State We're In Assembly
Inspired by the experiences of Brian Haw, whose antiwar vigil outside the Houses of Parliament has lasted eight years, political reporter Zia Trench has written a mildly fictionalised version of the man and his experience. The protester, here called Tommy, is played by Michael Byrne as an ordinary husband and father who realised one day that he could simply not not-protest. Trench has him quote Martin Luther - 'Here I stand. I can do no other' - and the sense that he is driven, not by some intellectualised political position, but by the internalised conviction that he must do this thing because it is right, is one of the play's strongest and most moving impressions. But neither playwright nor actor is blind to the fact that a degree of self-righteousness will inevitably creep into such a figure, and Tommy is not immune to either messianic nor martyr temptations. The play is at its weakest when it occasionally becomes just a soapbox for Tommy, at its best when it lets us see the human story, all the more impressive as it is made to seem more ordinary. There are strong supporting performances by Julie Higginson as the wife essentially deserted by her husband for a mistress she cannot fight, Amaka Okafor as a sympathetic reporter, and especially Diana Walker as a particularly oily MP finely attuned to the slightest shifts in the political winds.
Gerald Berkowitz

Stitches The Space at The Radisson
Set in a world ravaged by 'fire floods', where almost everything before the devastation has been destroyed or forgotten, this new piece of writing has the kind of sprawling plot usually encountered in sci-fi sagas rather than fringe theatre. Following a group of young conscripts whose task it is to rediscover lost knowledge, it raises interesting issues about what civilisation is and how humans, in surviving destruction, carry prejudices and class structures with them intact. Add to this an Orwellian state that tries to enforce equality and a complex set of personal relationships and back stories and you have a piece of theatre that is weighed down with lengthy explanations and frequent exposition that at times feels contrived. With so much to say and very little to show, it is difficult for the performers to portray convincing characters and get us to engage emotionally with their predicament. There is undoubtedly good writing here, but it is not clear what the writer wanted to say about humans or society by having them re-remember so much lost information. The complex plot contains some intriguing ideas but ultimately results in a piece that relies too heavily on novelistic description. Alex Brown

A Stroke of Genius Pleasance Dome
Inspired by reported attempts to set up a sperm bank of geniuses, David Byrne's play imagines a woman determined to bear a superior child. She has chosen the brilliant donor, who knows nothing about her plans, so she will have to find a way to extract what she needs from him. But first she must find and recruit someone with enough medical knowledge to collect the little swimmers and perform the fertilization, and that requires first kidnapping the hapless medical student's girlfriend. Meanwhile, some rummaging around in her own genetic history uncovers a long-lost brother, who turns out to be.... Writer-director Byrne seems unsure whether his play is farce, psychological horror, black comedy, serious study in eugenics or sad little melodrama of sad little misguided people, and so it tries to be each of these in turn, and sometimes simultaneously, to the detriment of any of his ambitions and to the evident confusion of his cast, who seem unsure whether they're supposed to be comic or not. Somewhere in here are the seeds of two or three different plays, any one of which would have to be more successful, more consistent in tone and focus, and more coherent than this one. Gerald Berkowitz

Success Story Pleasance
When love and loyalty are defined loosely enough to allow for, or even assume betrayal, do the words retain any meaning at all? A successful screenwriter used the dirty linen of a former lover's family as the plot of his hit film, and used his current fiancee to get to her producer father, while the family chose to involve him in their secrets and the girl may well have used the lure of her father to catch this rising star. But does that mean that none of them actually loved the others? Brett Goldstein's play raises and debates these questions, always bringing them from the theoretical to the level of actual human experience, and concludes that the paradox is possible and possibly inevitable, but that it forces us to live and love with a degree of unresolvable ambiguity. Skilfully directed by Chris Lince, Goldstein as the writer and Felicity Wren as the bitter ex-lover carry much of the play's emotional weight, sensitively leading us through the complexities of the moral debate, while Susanna Herbert adds an ironic dimension as the fiancee more at ease with shades of grey than they.
Gerald Berkowitz

Super Situation The Bongo Club
Extraordinary Girl is part of a crack team of government-sponsored superheroes. An accident has given her superpowers which are not only handy for repelling invasions of gigantic spiders but also for chores around the house: EG can remote-control all the appliances with a twist of her fingers and even iron her cape with her super-heated palms. When not saving the world from evil meglomaniacs and fretting over rival Inconceivable Girl, EG pops home and puts her feet up. Or at least that's the idea. Every time she plops herself on the sofa or takes a bite of food, the phones rings with an SOS call. Her well-meaning mother also calls often, as does the pizza delivery guy who may have a crush on her. Lois Tucker, in her guise as Lois of the Lane, is wordless throughout - instead she reacts to an inventive stream of 40 character voices that are fed into EG's life via the phone, ansafone, TV, satellite comms and the street outside - most notable on voice-over duties is Amanda Reed as EG's mum. The premise is ambitious, tightly scripted by Tucker and is so well paced that this could effortlessly extend to a full 90 minutes. However, more work needs to be done on the facial expressions and movement (and unbecoming title), and there is heaps of room for added visual gags and running jokes. Nick Awde

Sweeney Todd - His Life, Times and Execution Gilded Balloon
The title of Finger In The Pie's show might well continue 'As Performed By The Inmates of The Prison at Newgate Under The Direction of The Mad Warden.' This is Sweeney Todd as mad clown show, with the rag-clad and whiteface cast reinventing the familiar story through performance, narration, puppetry, a touch of juggling and a music score that might be Kurt Weill as played by the Tiger Lillies. Primary among the fresh twists in the script developed by the company and directed by Alexander Parsonage is having Sweeney played by the most normal-looking member of the cast, Frank Wurzinger, as a shy and well-meaning youth who slips accidentally into murder through his ineptness as a barber's apprentice. Broad clowning and clever comic business spark at least the first half of the show, but inspiration and energy seem to flag, and it is noticeable that the whole killing spree and meat pies plot, normally considered the essence of the tale, is squeezed into the shortest section of the hour. If the wit and invention of the opening sequences could be sustained, this could be a guilty-pleasure comic delight. Gerald Berkowitz

Sweet C
A man despairs of his menial office job but has only his bumbling alcoholic friend for company in the world outside. Meanwhile, in a nearby sweetshop, a lonely woman creates confectionery for her sinister customers. Touching, funny and dramatic in equal measure, Chotto Ookii's inventive blend of mime, physical and narrative theatre offers a taste of the light and darkness to be found in even the most mundane of lives. These three particular lives cross paths one day when the man (a suitably intense Jake England Johns) passes the shop and falls for the sweetmaker, played by the bubbly Rebecca Devitt. Egged on by his wastrel mate (an impossibly gangly Matt Rogers), it is his obsessive behaviour rather than fate that brings them together - and raises the question of whether the attraction is mutual and what secrets are behind that saccharine facade. Aided and abetted by an inventive music/FX soundtrack, occasional puppets and a multi-purpose lo-tech set, the cast of Chotto Ookii are a finely tuned ensemble. Although not as disciplined as their East European conferes, their rubbery faces, elastic bodies and dramatic timing make for compelling viewing in a show that is as disturbing as it is entertaining. Nick Awde

Terry Pratchett's Lords and Ladies C
Another Fringe. Another big name. Another packed house. Another poor show. Some of the Southampton University performers try their best to drive the desperately slow story forward, while others look like they can't wait for their run at the festival to finish. The sluggish pace of this show is evident from the first scene. One has nothing against performers who decide to play fantasy with straight acting, but at least do it with conviction. The two witches that open this show are painful to watch, and it doesn't get much better. As actors, Shawn Ogg, the dumb guard, and Mustrum Ridcully, the Archchancellor, both understand the tone of the performance. The humour isn't overplayed, but there are enough subtle touches that make them stand out from the rest of the large cast. The funniest part of this show is the Elves' misery in performing a dance with bucket and stick but that isn't saying much when there is such a rich text to work from. The story lacks clarity and energy, and there are not the performance skills to carry it. Thank the Lord and Ladies that this lazy show is over. Benedict Shaw

This Mortal Coil Quaker Meeting House
In this production from Sydney Theatre School, seven women wake to find themselves in a smoke-filled room, staffed only by a taciturn caretaker. As the women gradually establish that they are all from different time periods and parts of the world, the caretaker pursues a copy of 'Manifest your Destiny'. This book, in somewhat heavy - handed fashion, signals the themes of the play: women, destiny and power. In a space between life and death, the women realise that they have one thing in common: a pre-determined sense of inevitable destiny has shaped their lives. While clearly holding well meant feminist ideals, this play relies heavily on one-dimensional, stereotyped representations of femininity which lack depth and complexity. Sophie O'Brien puts in a good performance as the future president of an imagined post-Obama international government. However, this does little to compensate for the reductive sentiment of her character as the guardian of female empowerment. Ironically the play unfolds with the same kind of inevitability that it is attempting to critique. As each character eventually throws off the symbols of her oppression, the mother's apron, the hooker's stilettos etc, and 'steps into the light', the overriding impression is not of liberation but, unfortunately, of tedious repetition of simplistic ideas. Eleanor Williams

Three Women By Sylvia Plath Assembly
Three women is Sylvia Plath's only play. In fact, with its themes and structure, it is pure Plath and could easily be mistaken for a poetry cycle. It lasts only 40 minutes but in that time plumbs the depths of the heart, as the titular ladies undergo the pleasures and pains of childbirth. Sadly, although the Wife and her baby (Louisa Clein) emerge from hospital happy and healthy, neither of her compatriots, the Secretary (Neve Mcintosh) and the Student (Lara Lemon) are so fortunate. This tearful pair express the ordeal of carrying a child whom you never see and, as bad, having to see the mothers and newborn babes that did make it. Robert Shaw directs three fine actresses in a short performance that is engrossing, moving and well worth getting out of bed early to see, as the show plays at the un-Edinburgh time of 11am. Philip Fisher

Tim - Against All Odds Underbelly
Jonathan Donahoe and Daniel Benoliel, neither of them, as you might notice, actually named Tim, play respectively a guy who feels that his life has been blighted by his thoroughly unheroic name, and his best buddy Maxwell, who has been doing quite well with his. After one failed attempt to do something heroic, Tim decides to go on an Arthurian-style quest to find and conquer some beast somewhere and return a hero, and drags Maxwell along. Their comic adventures, which somehow always find Maxwell coming out somewhat better than Tim, involve encounters with a sea captain who would much rather be a train engineer, a ghost who won't share his raisins, and other odd characters, all played by one or the other of the pair, except when they pause to locate an actual Tim in the audience and recruit him to fill in a supporting role. (I suppose that the occasional Tim-less audience requires the selection of an honorary Tim) It's a nice twist on the standard two-comic format of unrelated sketches, and if it rarely rises to real hilarity, it is an amiable hour of low-key comedy. Gerald Berkowitz

Time Out of Joint C Soco
Playwright Frank Bramwell imagines Shakespeare in 1592, working a bit anachronistically on an early version of Hamlet, only to be interrupted by his seductive Dark Lady and what first seems to be the ghost of his first true love, the model for Ophelia. With the play-in-progress occupying his mind, he keeps finding ordinary conversations sliding into Hamlet dialogue, even when he's not showing off, as he tries to sort out the conflicting pulls of love and lust. That really isn't much to hang a play on, and Bramwell doesn't seem able to work up much of a plot. So the play staggers on long after it has made its small point and the fun of the quotations has faded, and not even a pillow fight between the two women can disguise the fact that not a lot actually happens once all three characters have appeared. Peter Ormond develops some comic fun out of the hungover, overworked and oversexed Shakespeare, though neither Clare Wallis or Maresa Schick can make either of the women seem real, and director Arnaud Mugglestone cannot sustain what is perhaps a half-hour's worth of material over three times that length. Gerald Berkowitz

Timeshare Sweet ECA
Terry Rogers' play combines a contemporary story of two couples in a timeshare apartment in Spain and William Shakespeare's play Macbeth. His conceit is to have the contemporary characters' problems and aspirations mirror those of Shakespeare's while also inexplicably, and at first mysteriously, situating the Macbeths in the Spanish apartment too. There is no attempt anywhere in the play to make this circumstance plausible. Instead, the author just settles for exploiting the idea for its comedic value. Some knowing members of the audience will be amused by the interlacing of the Bard's verse with the contemporary vernacular and 'Spanish for beginners'. Those struggling to remember the finer details of the plot will be duly reminded, just in time before the climax point. Beyond stating the obvious - that Shakespeare's themes and the concerns of his characters are often to be found in our paltry everyday lives - I am not entirely sure what the point of this play is. That said, the production is fairly decent and might go down well with those who are on the look out for this sort of entertainment. Duska Radosavljevic

The Ultimately Doomed Life of Charlie Cumcup Sweet ECA
This very funny, undeniably original and completely twisted piece of theatre holds its audience in simultaneously disgusted and delighted rapture. Donald introduces himself and his wife Morag, who died of a brain tumour 10 years ago. He apologises to the audience, explaining that she is frozen in the vicious and vituperative state before her death. He then professes himself to be the archetypal Old Man, which he always has been and always will be, and reveals with slight trepidation the eponymous character - a son whose origins, Donald explains, lie in guilt from when he was young (which he never was). As such, the play gently probes the metatheatrical, but disguises it with a large scoop of comedy - an audience member is reminded to 'watch out for the 4th wall'. Nonetheless, these deeper issues provide a foundation upon which this piece unbelievably manages to build poignancy. Unfortunately, one horribly extended section breaks the enjoyment. An audience member is left to the intrusive questioning of Charlie. Funny at first, it becomes painfully embarrassing for everyone, far beyond humour or interest. Aside from this moment, the piece is wonderfully characterised and acted all round. The vocalisation of age and youth is particularly well done, as well as being deliberately exaggerated to comic effect. Lana Harper

Unit 46 C
Australian playwright Mick Barnes borrows a device from Alan Ayckbourn in putting two neighbours, one in the flat above the other, on the same set, so that they may sit side by side while complaining of the noise from above or below. Oddly, neither he nor director Andrew Doyle does much with the gimmick, with very little in the way of near-misses or choreographed crossings to exploit the comic or ironic potential. Nor is the play primarily about each character's antagonism toward the unseen other. Rather, we get what are essentially independent portraits of urban isolation and loneliness, in the prematurely retired man resenting his enforced idleness and the woman at emotional loose ends while between husbands or lovers. There is a counterpoint and balance between the two, as they take turns getting caught up in their pet obsessions. But the play might have been just as effective, or perhaps even more so, with the two performers perched on stools on a bare stage. Leof Kingsford-Smith makes the man mousy and anonymous without being uninteresting or unsympathetic, while Lucy Miller generates some individuality out of her character's collection of predictable complaints and quirks.
Gerald Berkowitz

Up The Vaults
It's clear from the outset of this one-man play that Robert understands and accepts why he is a long-term guest of the NHS, kept under lock and key in a psychiatric hospital. And yet that sense of certainty fails to bolster his faltering mental stability, besieged as it is by factors beyond his control: insomnia, cigarette addiction, a seemingly catatonic room-mate and the anything but catatonic nutter brandishing a fork in the corridor outside. Chunks of the gripping, darkly humorous story of how Robert ended up in the ward fall abruptly into place, just as his narration helps him work out the jigsaw of his traumatic past and confused present. It's hard to give away more but what transpires swiftly becomes a showcase of, as it says on the flier, one man's 'gallows bedside manner'. Return to Work scores the hat-trick of great performance, script and direction. Thanks to James Ley's loaded script and director Rosalind Sydney's precise touch, Laurie Brown builds an impressively naturalistic portrayal of the complex Robert. He ensures that the humour and horror are utterly believable whether he is analysing his demons or unclogging vomit from the sink, and reveals how madness can seep into the most normal corners of our lives. Nick Awde

Ava Vidal: Remember Remember The 4th Of November The Stand
Musing on the election of Barack Obama, Ava Vidal wants to how whether it has made a difference over here. More pertinently, what lessons can she apply to her own life? Cue an inspired stream of biographical scenes that veer from dippy to shocking just when you least expect it. Raising her kids is important to Vidal, a theme that that makes her ruminate on the rapid growing up she has done herself. Cue scenes of dealing with the dubious chivalry of felons in HM Prison Pentonville, being slammed up in a cell herself for drug possession while fending off requests from the cops to tell them gags, and Obama's own observations on his teenage drug taking get a deserved airing. An exploration of black vs white sexuality somehow segues into an insightful overview of the 'ironically racist' (and sexist) material of white comedians which leads to a savagely funny barrage of culled punchlines. Her account of how to deal with racist hate mail is a mini-classic in itself. If this sounds like it's all ultimately right-on, chest-beating, radical-liberal bleating, think again. Like any stand-up worthy of the title, Vidal speaks from her own experience which, as she makes clear, is pretty obvious since she's a black British mother of two who can't help lobbing distinctly non-PC bombs into the mix (and her own life) to jaw-dropping effect. The Stand IV is not the most conducive of spaces and Vidal's style is undoubtedly cramped for the lack of a decent-sized hall. Still, her delivery needs more focus while her material could benefit from being ordered into distinct 'chapters' - in this particular show Obama gets lost amongst the other themes. Don't get me wrong - Vidal possibly has more to say than the rest of Edinburgh's comics put together, it's just that it needs to be said more clearly. Nick Awde

The Virginia Monologues Gilded Balloon
It is worth clarifying that, for most part, this looks like an event that might have strayed into the Fringe theatre section from the Book Festival. In it, journalist Virginia Ironside speaks on 'why it's great to be sixty' - and it excludes cruising, book clubs and researching your family tree. Instead this is 'a talk' about the delights of seniority, glamorous gowns, and free drugs. Hard as it may be to imagine it - as she stands there bespectacled, in a librarian-style green dress and comfortable shoes - Ironside was once a veritable 1960s rock chick. And as she gives her thoughts on gardening and geriatric sex, she slips in comments on interviewing the Rolling Stones and the bed-fellows she has had. Memory is a subject of her show too, and not least because of those endearingly named 'craft moments' - of struggling to remember her lines. But then again, this is not theatre, and despite her colourful life, Ironside does not quite have the charisma of Street-Porter or Greer. Honouring her reputation as an agony aunt, she dishes advice and commands respect and simply delivers a live rendition of what might have been a Sunday newspaper column.Duska Radosavljevic

Felicity Ward Gilded Balloon
Another Australian act to have its Fringe debut comes from the twenty-eight year old one time geek-turned-comedienne, sporting a pretty dress and a slightly mad hairstyle. Felicity Ward blames her unconventional upbringing for the way she turned out, and to prove her point she takes us down the memory lane, sharing her photo albums, scrap books and socially-engaged poetry written at the age of ten. And yes, it is funny. She has a light touch, a healthy sense of self-irony and an excellent audience rapport. There is a small chance that her act can vary from night to night, as it appears to be delicately pitched - but the night I saw it, the mood in the house was infectiously good. Her parodies of her school counselor and a more recent psychologist are particularly memorable as is her party trick involving a convincing impression of retching. Ward is essentially a naturally gifted raconteur - the kind you would want as a dinner-party guest. Even though she warns you of her filthy language, this aspect of her personality - like her professed childhood ugliness - is a kind of red herring, entirely swamped by her irresistable quirkiness. Duska Radosavljevic

Ward No. 6 C cubed
Anton Chekhov's long story is about a provincial doctor so depressed by the conditions in the hospital where he works and by his own nihilistic fatalism that he ultimately ends up a patient in the insane ward. In translating it to the stage, adapter-director Matthew Parker has inevitably reduced the philosophical debates that take up much of the original to a few sample exchanges, but emphasises and intensifies the central irony by having the doctor's story acted out by the mental patients in a kind of small-scale Marat/Sade style. The four young actors of the DogOrange company, all recent graduates of Drama Studio London, thus take on the challenge of playing mental patients playing the characters in the doctor's story, while also communicating that the story they are telling is their skewed perception of reality. The result is a dream-like tale in which the doctor is from the start the passive and doomed victim of outside forces, much like the inmates themselves. Parker's direction and design sustain the double vision as well as the clarity of the story and some hints of the philosophical content, as does the excellent ensemble playing of Harry Lobek, Michael Linsey, Ben Galpin and Charlotte Blake. Gerald Berkowitz

Weepie C Soco
Weepie, a play from Chris Goode, is a hugely challenging text, its complexities ranging from gender performance, mysticism to the staging of the sublime. Fine performances from Mark Brewster and Johnny Collis-Scurll make this harrowing piece of theatre much more accessible, stripping down its layered themes of body channelling and homosexuality into a gripping hour. The black humour and brutality between both men is summed up in one moment, when Petrel is holding Edsel's cold tongue. When his tongue becomes free, Edsel mumbles, 'No need to cling on for so long. We're not married yet.' Goode's play successfully entwines two narratives, the true story of two men who are training to become murderers and commit a motiveless crime, and an TV-style chat show involving an interview with St Mary of Oignies, the 12th century French mystic known for her visions and weepings. The two actors, dressed in black, bulging muscles, shift between the four roles. The poetic script dips between naturalism and magical realism, but both actors hold their own with very controlled performances. Collis-Scurll may be a man to watch; playing the hair-shaven, thuggish Edsel, he oozes confidence as he switches between his roles. In Edsel, we see the brash cockiness of a man whose muscles show strength, but whose eyes scream vulnerability. The spacing and rhythm of Donald Pulford's production make it particularly engaging, which is welcome when the play's themes of obscenity, the construction of masculinity and domination can sometimes be tough to get a grip of. You may not leave Weepie with a full understanding of its message, but its memory will linger with you, and The Lincoln Company should be commended for this. Benedict Shaw

We Made A Funny Pleasance
This sketch show marks the return of the Bristol Revunions after 30 years away from Edinburgh Fringe. Imagining how video game characters - in this case, Mario, Luigi and Princess Peach - would live in the real world is genuinely funny, as is the Sea Captain whose Mastermind Special Subject is finishing Song Lyrics: 'What if God was one of us?' Answer: 'He'd piss in the shower.' Some sketches and gags are repeated, and you start anticipating the punchlines, but these characteristics aren't as irritating as you might expect. The performance skills and comic material are effective in a number of sketches, such as the Door-to-Door Salesman, the monologue of a businessman called Team Player who is buttering up Sir Alan, and in a letter to Nicholas Cage 'who was to the Hollywood blockbuster, what Jesus was to our sins'. The less successful moments occur when the performers feel desperate for laughs or are trying too hard to be clever, such as in the hymn that opens the performance, the comment on L'Oreal advertisements and a Spelling Test in a Primary School. Still, the scene when a man gives his five biggest regrets has a hilarious twist, and the final sketch wherein all the cast have numbers across their chests is very witty and well written. Generally, this show is one of the smarter revues around this year. Benedict Shaw

Why Do All Catherines Call Themselves Kate? Zoo Southside
Family dramas are often sparked off by a parent's funeral, bringing people together or pulling them apart. In Mwewa Sumbwanyame's play, three people are brought together not only by family ties but by unpaid debts too. Inspired by true events, the story involves a loan shark Max and his half-brother Matt, as well as the girl desired by both and initially had by their dead father. Set on a New Year's Eve, this is a very original take on the familiar story which gives scope for dramatic tension and some high stakes. Liverpudlian writer Sumbwanyame handles the challenge with a skill for suspense although at times the characters' back-stories are too complex to be effective on the stage. Subwanyame finds an interesting tool for exposition by making his characters play a confessional party game but there is only so far this can go before we have to get back to the business of extracting the dues. The young cast do their best with the characters they've been given, although I do wonder whether the play was not potentially written with a different casting in mind. Duska Radosavljevic

The Wind in the Willows Gilded Balloon
The Cambridge University ADC have created a very charming adaptation of this children's classic, writing a genuinely funny tale that is better received by the adults than the children. There is still enough silliness to satisfy young people though, from the visual humour to characters chasing others through the crowd. But it is when these students shy away from your typical children's show that The Wind in the Willows is most successful. Crucially, the characters are very well-drawn, and it is an enjoyable hour to spend in the company of Ratty, Toad, Moley and Badger. The hierarchy and relationship between these characters are at times hilarious, as is the group of dumb weasels led by their leader who suffers from a weak R: 'This is all thanks to my bwilliant bwain.' The performance of Ratty is particularly impressive, and whilst the hyperactivity of Toad (Best Dressed Amphibian GQ 2005) sometimes gets irritating, this reviewer did find himself laughing very often. The script's dry humour makes this piece so watchable, and its pace means your children won't get fidgity. Even the scene changes are fluid, and the limitations are humorously exploited - if you can't have a good effect for the fishes in a river, let one of the cast bob her way across the stage with a cardboard fish attached to her waist. The ending is perhaps a touch disappointing after such a big build-up, but the imagination, cohesion and performances make this show definitely worth seeing. I recommend sitting near the front of the space to really appreciate it, as the subtle humour is sometimes lost in the auditorium. Benedict Shaw

Wolfboy George Square
Adapted from Brad Fraser's 1981 play, this ambitious musical can be interpreted in a variety of ways, from sexual thriller to buddy story or even horror tale. On two beds in a nameless psychiatric hospital lie two youths. Wide-boy Bernie (Gregg Lowe) has slit his wrists while David (Paul Holowaty) thinks he's a wolf. In their own ways, both put up stiff resistance to Nurse Cherry's kindly but firm attempts to get them to communicate their problems - Bernie refuses to write down his thoughts, David's response is not to speak. A concerned visitor is Bernie's brother Christian (Lee Latchford-Evans), to whom Cherry (Katie Beard) takes a shine, while during the dark hours David experiences wheedling visitations from the mysterious disembodied Annie. As the sinister story emerges of why they are there, the youths develop an unlikely friendship that grows as violence turns to trust. It's a bit of a mixed bag. The cast works commendably hard, although their otherwise excellent voices are not suited for Leon Parris' songs. Meanwhile the musical struggles not to be eclipsed by the play in Russell Labey's script. Additionally, Wolfboy cannot make up its mind whether to be sung-through or not, resulting in no stand-out numbers aside from the stripped-down and disturbing brothers' song in the final third. Still, with the right investment, all of this can be easily fixed since this is a musical with great potential to go national. Nick Awde

Glenn Wool Underbelly's Hullabaloo
It is almost redundant for Canadian comic Glenn Wool to carry a microphone, since most of his monologue is delivered at shout-across-a-river volume, not because Wool is angry or especially excited, but because that seems to be his normal mode. The solid control he has over his material is evidenced in the fact that he sets out to tell one single story, constantly interrupting or digressing from it into side issues or anecdotes, but repeatedly returning to inch it forward a bit more and hitting the thoroughly satisfying punchline just as his hour ends. The entertaining digressions range from the predictable (the pains of divorce and dating, outrage at punk rockers doing TV ads), through the idiosyncratic (tales of his father the Mountie) to the delightfully skewed (dead smurfs in a mousetrap, a messiah named Rick). Only near the end of the hour does his comedy turn political and angry, with a screed against bankers and men-in-suits in general, and by then he has won the audience over so fully that they cheer along with his outrage, whatever politics they came in with. Gerald Berkowitz

Words of Honour Assembly
Thanks to a hi-tech backdrop of arty shifting images that morph to fit the mood, we are taken on a sight and sound journey through the dodgy history of the Mafia. Specifically the Cosa Nostra- the one that put the Don in Corleone, the town that lies at the dark heart of Sicily. Adopting various Mafia personas and pumping Italian culture like a one-man tourism board, Marco Gambino tells how local brigands took over the towns and eventually pervaded every level of society in Sicily and beyond in the dubious name of honour. The result is a glorious evocation of a complex culture and larger than life personalities, and yet it is inevitably a grim tale, offering little of the romanticism that pervades Mario Puzo's The Godfather or anything starring Pacino/DeNiro. Extortion is the industry that powers the Mafia, although murder is never far behind as it enforces cooperation and eliminates pesky investigating magistrates. The shop by shop analysis of who pays what in today's central Palermo is a soberingly surreal moment. There is a huge audience out there for this, but this particular show cannot make up its mind whether to be a museum installation or dramatic piece. Additionally the elegant Patrizia Bollini is woefully underused. If Word of Honour is to be dramatic, then the characters must be defined more clearly and the story should be told through the eyes of a member of the Mafia family or one of their victims. Nick Awde

The World's Wife Assembly
Unless written to be performed, poetry is notoriously difficult to stage in any way that doesn't involve just standing in front of a microphone. But there is a first for everything. Not only is Carole Ann Duffy the first woman to be appointed as the official 'royal bard', but she must also be the first Poet Laureate to be getting a successful theatre adaptation of her poetry on the Fringe. This speaks volumes about the popular appeal of Duffy's work but also about the genius of the show's performer and adaptor Linda Marlowe. Nineteen poems are given life here through a combination of inspired delivery, slick computer-generated scene changes and a skillful use of minimal props and costumes. Marlowe reigns supreme on the virtually bare stage, like a mythical shape-shifter, she flits from one swift portrayal to another easily stretching her range from the sweet teens Little Red Cap, Salome and Delilah to Mrs Quasimodo, Frau Freud, Queen Kong and the Kray Sisters, while not forgetting the Greek gorgons of course. At just over 70 minutes the show feels a touch too long by Fringe standards, however, its structure is carefully considered and the show makes sure you've had a royal serving of your verse. Duska Radosavljevic

Tom Wrigglesworth's Open Return Letter To Richard Branson Pleasance
Tom Wrigglesworth's inspiring account of how he got arrested on a Virgin train bound for London from Manchester is as much a modern morality tale as it is a comic rant. Gobsmacked, he watched a fascist of a train manager brandish a priapic ticket machine and extort a £105 ticket from an innocent old granny simply because she was on the wrong (offpeak) train. The comic helped her out with the help of the other passengers and promptly got arrested for his pains, courtesy of the offended manager. Copious details and asides add fresh layers to what is already a rich story in itself. The manager's spunk-stained trousers and corpulent sashaying down the aisle are prominent motifs as is the narrator's own petulant (but forgiveable) behaviour at the train buffet where further petty Hilterdom reigns in the name of health and safety. This is the sort of stuff other comics would kill for, and Wrigglesworth does not disappoint. Minus minor embellishments, it's all true and couched in his remarkable balance of comedy and inadvertent activism. As a result of his campaigning letters to Richard Branson (blackmailing him with his own slogans), Virgin Trains have now changed their regulations. Only 25 other train operators to go. Nick Awde

The Yellow Wallpaper C Soco
This adaptation by Tana Sirois and Connie Brice of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's story of a descent into madness provides an adequate summary of the plot and evocation of some of the horror, while not capturing the multi-textured quality of the original or finding a stage vocabulary beyond mere presentation of events. In particular, there is little hint of the story's strong suggestion that the central character may be inaccurately reporting or misinterpreting where she is and what the motivations and indeed identities of the other characters are, ambiguities that have contributed to the story's status as a feminist classic but that the play merely accepts as unquestioned facts. A brief and unsuccessful expressionistic sequence at the start is quickly abandoned, and the use of backlighting to suggest the imagined world behind the wallpaper just doesn't work. Faced with the story of a woman who may be suffering from nothing worse than mild post-partum depression at the start, but whose cure drives her into true madness, director Tana Sirois and actress Helen Foster do not seem to have been able to decide just what path her journey should take, jumping between mania, depression and simple confusion, though her sliding in and out, and finally permanently out of reality is appropriately chilling. Gerald Berkowitz

Your Number's Up Assembly
A man lies comatose on a pavement in a north London street as nine onlookers gather. Help has been called for and as they wait, it becomes clear that the nine all know each other and the victim directly or indirectly. Illegal immigrant, thug, wideboy, doctor, druggie - they form one of the many typical slices of North London life, and it's no surprise to discover that there are a few unsavoury secrets that connect them. First impressions are that Your Number's Up is a racy albeit worthy reworking of all the gritty street drama devices so beloved of youth theatre projects. But ten minutes in, the action veers leftfield, the play structure shifts shape and it abruptly becomes more human - and surprisingly entertaining. To say more would be giving things away, suffice to say that self-reference and metatheatre abound as each protagonist's story is unravelled and you realise that all are destined to be there. Together with this energetic cast gathered by Roundhouse Theatre, Philip Osment has created a cracking script that belongs as much onscreen as it does onstage, while director Jim Pope allows each character to shine without sentimentality. Nick Awde

Zeitgeist C
Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre is an Australian company dedicated to fusing Asian dance traditions with Western performance art styles 'to explore how we as human beings are interacting with ourselves, each other and the earth.' In practice this means that the current program, a collection of seven pieces from previous shows, includes one dance with a vaguely Japanese flavour, one suggesting Bollywood choreography, and so on. But the hints of ethnicity are purely on the surface, as with the Japanese dance's kimono costumes which, given the company's preference to perform in nothing more than G-strings, are quickly removed. In almost every number, the choreography by director Lynne Bradley and others consists of having four to eight dancers repeat the same basic movement several times in unison and than move in unison to another repeated movement, with no individual variations or deviations from the pattern. Even the strongest piece, Bradley's Terror, in which the dancers take turns miming supplication and violent death, merely repeats the process of dying, rising and dying again long after it has made its point and used up its limited movement vocabulary. Gerald Berkowitz

Zemblanity Bedlam
Wearing a pair of tights and a bowler hat, Zemblanity's frontman clown Hans is for most of the time at pains to point out to us that there is nothing funny in the show. His earnest manner, easy audience rapport and the choice of a pedal automobile over a unicycle make Hans likable, quirky and certainly quite amusing. He is accompanied by a chorus of impressively acrobatic clowns who cartwheel, slip on imaginary banana skins, play miniature instruments and recite verse with a kind of gusto rarely witnessed in a conventional big top. Le Navet Bete, a young Devon-based troupe seem to have a loyal following. On the night I was booked to see it, there were patches of audience members having a conspicuously good time. Such unbridled audience reception is more reminiscent of a students union gig than a professional theatre show and it certainly came across to this reviewer in a way which compromised the impression of the company's professionalism. It potentially also impaired the rest of the audience's enjoyment. All I could hear were Hans's desperate pleas to the audience to stop laughing. Duska Radosavljevic

Zoo Lodge Pleasance Dome
Rebecca Boey's thoroughly sincere drama plays like a half-season of Crossroads set in South Africa, with no hint that author, director Chloe Whipple or the cast are aware of the self-parody it keeps falling into. A couple of backpackers who have been robbed are stranded at a downmarket Johannesburg hotel, where they discover that the owner is sleeping with the manageress while his wife shops or watches TV, the handyman is a political refugee from Zimbabwe in constant danger of being discovered and sent back to certain death, and his assistant is a drunk unable to keep a secret longer than it takes him to finish his first beer of the day. Strangers confide in each other for the sole authorial purpose of getting the information to us or kicking the plot along, and things that have no particular reason for happening at the same time do, just to generate a climax. Throw in some near-caricature acting, wavering accents and conversations that consist of one character delivering reams of exposition or backstory to another, and it really is difficult to take the whole thing as seriously as it is evidently intended. Akubar Osman as the refugee retains some dignity as an actor.
Gerald Berkowitz

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

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Reviews - Edinburgh Festival - 2009