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 The Theatreguide.London Reviews

EDINBURGH FESTIVAL AND FRINGE 2012

The several simultaneous events that make up 'The Edinburgh Festival' - the International Festival, the Fringe, the Comedy Festival, etc. - bring thousands of shows and performers to the Scottish capital each August. No one can see more than a fraction of what's on offer, but with our experienced reviewing team we managed extensive coverage of the best. 

Virtually all of these shows toured after Edinburgh, and many came to London, making the Festival a unique preview of the year. 

We give star ratings in Edinburgh, since festival goers have shown a preference for such shorthand guides. Ratings range from Five Stars (A Must-See) down to One Star (Surely there's something better you can do with your time), though we urge you to look past the stars to read the accompanying review.

This list is divided into two pages, in alphabetical order (soloists by last name), with A-L on this page and M-Z on another

Scroll down this page for our review of  The Agony And Ecstacy Of Steve Jobs, All That Is Wrong, And No More Shall We Part, Angels, As Of 1.52pm. . . , As Ye Sow,  As You Like It, An Audience With The Duke Of Windsor, 

Ballad of Pondlife McGurk, Bane, Bane 2, Bane 3, Basic Training, Best In The World, Beulah, Bitch Boxer, Blink, Botallack O'Clock, Bound, A Boy Growing Up, Built For Two, Bullet Catch, 

Cambridge Footlights, Cancer Time, Candida, Captain Ferguson's School For Balloon Warfare, Captain Ko And The Planet Of Rice, Casablanca, Churchill, Clinton The Musical, Nina Conti, Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean,  

Dead Man's Cell Phone,  Desperately Seeking The Exit,  Dickens' Women, Dirty Great Love Story, Dr Quimpugh's Compendium Of Peculiar Afflictions, Durham Revue, The Economist, Educating Ronnie, An Evening With Dementia, 

Fabled, The Fantasist, Fascinating Aida, Tim Fitzhigham,  Fitzrovia Radio Hour, Flanders and Swann,  Gilbert And Sullivan In Brief(s), Going Green The Wong Way, Grit, Growing Old Disgracefully, Hell's Bells, Hot, How A Man Crumbled, 

I Heart Hamas, I Heart Peterborough, The Idiot At The Wall,  In A Handbag Darkly, The Intervention, Irreconcilable Differences, John Peel's Shed, Joyced, 

Kemble's Riot, Kit And McConnel, Krapp's Last Tape, Leo, Letter Of Last Resort & Good With People, The Life And Sort Of Death Of Eric Argyle, Love All, Love Child 

Go to second M-Z Page.

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The Agony And Ecstacy Of Steve Jobs   Gilded Balloon         ***
In this monologue written by Mike Daisey and performed by Grant O'Rourke – it's important to make that distinction, because much of the piece's power comes from the claim that we are being given a personal account – a self-styled 'Apple fan boy' tells us two stories, of Steve Jobs' rise and fall and rise again with Apple and of his own visit to the enormous Chinese factories that make Apple products. His tone is that of expos, though the worst he can say about Jobs is that he was a hard boss and that as a corporation Apple has the goal of maximising profits. The Chinese side of the story is darker but also can't hold too many surprises – Apple products (and, evidently, every other consumer product used in the West) are made in sweatshop assembly lines, probably by low-paid teenagers, and the factories pay little attention to health and safety. This is, of course, shameful, and there is no doubt that Western consumers will eventually have to come to grips with it, but it's not exactly news (We've been hearing the same story about clothes for years, and it hasn't kept us out of designer labels or Primark). Grant O'Rourke does a good job of making it all sound like his own experience and feelings, which is the source of the monologue's credibility and authority.    Gerald Berkowitz

All That Is Wrong   Traverse         *
A teenage girl begins drawing a flow chart on the stage floor, connecting 'I' first to family and then to favourites and hates. The last takes over, and soon the floor is a jumble of everything she considers wrong with the world – war and Starbucks, global warming and plastic surgery, death and baldness. The predictability of some and banality of others probably do make a good approximation of what fills a sensitive adolescent's head, but simply watching a mainly silent girl writing all over the set in a stream of consciousness is not particularly theatrical, nor does it tell us much we might not have guessed on our own. Still, the sheer number and jumble of concerns weighing on the child can be touching, as is the girl's realisation, expressed in further floor writing, that she cannot do anything about most of these issues and must find a way to live with them while doing what little she can with what she can affect. Less aggressively in-your-face than previous Ontroerend Goed works, this remains more self-indulgent than audience-serving, more an expression of the artist's satisfaction that she is offended by the right things and therefore a good person than a contribution to understanding the issues or an effective piece of theatre.   Gerald Berkowitz

And No More Shall We Part   Traverse         ****
A sixty-ish couple are sitting in her bedroom making small talk. We will soon learn (so I'm not giving anything away here) that she is dying of cancer and has chosen to take control. She has swallowed the suicide pills and they are waiting for her to die. Flashbacks will take us through the process that brought them here, from her first announcement through his attempts to dissuade her to his acceptance. And so we and they just wait. Tom Holloway's new play is about a serious and powerful subject, and the performances of Dearbhla Molloy and Bill Paterson are impeccable, she making the wife clear-headed and steadfast throughout while he takes the husband through the difficult journey from horror to acquiescence. The only criticism to make of the play is that, once the difficult topic was chosen, it seems more or less to have written itself. Until the very last seconds there are no surprises and no unexpected character revelations. There is little beyond the unquestioned pleasure of watching two master performers making it all seem so easy and natural to hold your attention. But of course that, and the fact that this difficult subject is being addressed with admirable delicacy, is enough to recommend it.   Gerald Berkowitz

Angels   Traverse         ***
Nick Prentice was there when petty criminal Gary Glover fell or was pushed to his death, and now finds himself in the hands of very unsympathetic police. The discovery that Nick is an amateur pornographer, composing erotic fantasies starring kinky nuns and Hollywood's Scarlett Johansson, seems sufficient proof to the cops that he's a bad'un, and they suggest forcefully that he apply some of his literary talent to a confession. But of course we only have Nick's word for this, delivered in a frenetic monologue by actor Iain Robertson, and Nick does have some difficulty keeping fact, fancy and fantasy clear in his mind, so that he's not prepared to swear that the lovely Ms Johansson wasn't in the room hovering over him to protect him from some of the interrogators' more forceful persuasions. Bouncing around the bare stage with the energy of one just set free from confines, Iain Robertson tells the tale in a breathless rush that is sometimes hard to follow, playwright Ronan O'Donnell making few concessions to audience comfort (For example, it is almost a third of the way through the text before we even hear about Gary.) That something bizarre happened to Nick, that he was accused of a crime and that Scarlett Johansson was somehow involved will all be clear – the rest you may have to sort out in talking about the play afterwards.   Gerald Berkowitz

As Of 1.52pm GMT on Friday April 27th 2012 This Show Has No Title   Traverse         ****
Daniel Kitson's latest piece of storytelling is self-reflexive on so many levels as to constitute a theatrical hall of mirrors. Kitson sits at a table and reads from a script, explaining that he and his collaborator Jennifer Stott finished it too late for a full-cast production. The script is about writing partners Dan and Jen struggling to complete their play on time, and the inner play is about Dan and Jen and also Max, an old man who deliberately loses everything he owns from time to time. The several Dans and Jens argue about why he does this, and also about whether a play about writing a play is just too twee to be bearable. It would be, of course, if Kitson didn't deflect criticism by calling attention to every clich as he uses it, almost burying the hour in post-modern ironies. And that is the one big flaw in an hour that the most resistant will have to admit is very clever – that the script is so busy congratulating itself on its own cleverness that it leaves little room for our appreciation. As always, Kitson the performer is not quite up to the level of Kitson the writer, racing almost affectlessly through his reading and making no concession to the audience straining to keep up with him.    Gerald Berkowitz

As Ye Sow   Pleasance Dome       *
In a nursing home an old man whose wife disappeared some years ago seems unduly upset when his daughter proposes selling a bit of their property for developers to dig up. Hands up, all those who don't know the entire rest of the story. Playwright Stewart Pringle's attempt at a ghost story with a shock ending is handicapped by telegraphing all its twists and surprises within moments of the start, leaving the audience with nothing to do but wait for the already-obvious to eventually be spelled out for us, and is further crippled by plodding direction, special effects that don't work, and acting that might embarrass an unpretentious community theatre. There's not much point in beating this dead horse, so I'll just note that Scarlet Sweeney as the daughter is the only cast member to suggest an actual human being and therefore does what looks like superior acting by default.    Gerald Berkowitz

As You Like It   Pleasance Dome        ***
A one-hour condensation of Shakespeare's comedy is carried by strong and attractive performances in the central roles but hampered by just about everything else. Claudia Jolly nicely captures Rosalind's love at first sight and her torments when trapped by her disguise, Joseph Alwyn is an appropriately stalwart Orlando and Eleanor Henderson a benevolently cynical Celia. Jaques is a major victim of the wholesale textual cutting, leaving Ed Phillips with little more than the Seven Ages speech, which he delivers with quiet dignity. But absolutely everyone else in the cast has been directed by Katie Pesskin to play more broadly than any self-respecting Panto would allow, repeatedly destroying any reality and warmth the leads have been able to generate. Other major cuts include Adam, Audrey, Phebe's letter, the songs and the evil duke's repentance, along with heavy trimming of speeches resulting in some abrupt, gear-grinding transitions. A production concept that moves the play into the 1920s turns Arden into an urban speakeasy, with Jaques a barroom philosopher, Phebe a drunken bimbo, and everyone else either regulars or new customers, an image as harmless as it is pointless, except that it makes nonsense of all the talk of forest, trees and shepherds and also loses the play's thematic court-country contrast.  
  Gerald Berkowitz

An Audience With The Duke Of Windsor   Assembly Hall         ***
Bob Kingdom is one of those Fringe veterans who delights in presenting meticulously researched biographical monologues. His new play this year allows the former Edward VIII to justify his life and renunciation of his crown and people, in a 70 minute effort that might have benefited from a little pruning. The script follows from the Duke’s decision to take 1m. from Life magazine to prepare a book with an American ghostwriter. This money-making venture hardly seemed necessary for a man who can never have wanted for cash and accurately shows him up as frugal (OK – mean). Kingdom certainly looks the part as he takes us through HRH’s life, not always in chronological order. The audience will know the bare bones of the story already. Here was a great-grandson dandled on the knee of Queen Victoria and always destined to be King. However, the wastrel playboy liked his women too much and eventually fell under the spell of a high-living married American tyrant to such an extent that he left his office to marry and humour her. Kingdom’s Duke, David to his intimates, was a weak character who might well have threatened the existence of the monarchy has he been given the chance to fulfil his destiny. Instead, he ducked out leaving his brother to become the hero of The King’s Speech, jealously following his American divorcee around the world. Bob Kingdom clearly has his audience eating out of the palm of his regal hand in a show that will have great appeal, if you are attracted in the first place. Philip Fisher

The Ballad of Pondlife McGurk   Traverse@Scottish Book Trust         ****
The very model of audience-capturing storytelling, this is a well-written and excitingly performed tale that kids can recognise and respond to, and a cleverly open-ended conclusion gives them something to think and talk about afterwards. Created by Andy Manley, Bill Robertson and Rob Evans, directed by Robertson and performed by Manley, it is the easy-to-relate-to story of the new kids in school, frozen out by the cool kids and bullies and pushed into a special friendship until one betrays the other just by becoming popular. Constantly moving around the room, between and among the listening children (When performing in classrooms, he roams the aisles and climbs on desks) and pausing to make eye contact with every one of them so this becomes somebody telling you personally a great story and not some impersonal performance, Manley narrates in a rush of enthusiasm, playing every role (The kids love the snooty girl and the satirised teachers). He never forces the moral about loyalty, letting the story make it, and by ending with an ambiguity – the two former friends meet as grown-ups, and will they be friends again? – he leaves it to the kids to think and debate out the story's meanings.  Gerald Berkowitz

Bane   Pleasance Dome         *****   (reviewed at a previous Festival)
Bane is a hard-boiled detective story, with a typically broad and colourful cast including snitches, baddies, assistant baddies, molls, opera singers, a mad scientist and of course the lone wolf hero himself - all played by Joe Bone. The result is simultaneously a salute to and send-up of the genre, as the solo performer plays both sides of every conversation or shoot-out, not to mention a raft of sound effects and mood music. The fun of a show like this lies in the accuracy of the parody - that is to say, in having every comic moment or absurd plot twist vaguely remind us of some film noir precedent or at least seem true to the genre. And of course we enjoy the inventiveness and versatility of the actor jumping so seamlessly from role to role. This is in some ways the solo version of the sort of quick-change, multiple-role-playing almost-lose-control-of-the-juggling farce that has long been a fringe staple, and just about the only criticism to make of Bone is the seemingly perverse one that he is too much in control, not allowing us the added fun of watching the story and performance complications threatening to overwhelm him.
Gerald Berkowitz

Bane 2    Pleasance Dome        *****   (reviewed at a previous Festival)
Bane is back, and those who loved Joe Bone's first film noir tour-de-force are flocking to see the sequel. As in the original (see our review), Bone both salutes and parodies the conventions of the hard-boiled detective story, demonstrating in lines like 'He was as crooked as a dog's hind legs and as dirty as a hooker's underwear' how well he knows and loves the genre. And added to the homage is the delight of watching Bone playing all the roles himself. With nothing more than some live guitar mood music from Ben Roe, Bone plays the hero, everyone else (I lost count after twenty characters), several animals and all the sound effects, with his inventiveness and quick changes a large part of the fun. This time around Bane is the muscle for an Italian crime boss while a Russian godfather wants him killed. A buddy of Bane's doublecrosses him, the Russian is a bit too interested in his bodyguard's body, someone gets dumped in toxic waste and turns into a monster (much to the delight of passing Japanese tourists), and there's an open rip-off of a classic Monty Python gag, along with dozens of other quick jokes tossed off with the casualness of one whose comic imagination seems endless. Bane 3, we are told, is already in the works.  Gerald Berkowitz

Bane 3    Pleasance Dome        *****   (reviewed at a previous Festival)
Joe Bone's third instalment in his loving parody of film noir and hardboiled detective fiction is just as much fun as the first two, his imagination not flagging a bit, his inside-out knowledge of the genre allowing him to mine all its formulas and clichs, and his remarkable talent as mime and performer carrying the hour with infectious high energy, and retroactively earning him an extra star for the whole trilogy. This time around, lone wolf hardman Bane is on the run and goes undercover as an ordinary guy in small town America. But the baddies find him and he has to come out of hiding for a showdown. As before, Bone plays all the roles, along with props, narration, sound effects and cinematic devices. A chase down a city street involves not only the hunter and prey, but weather, traffic and all the people they pass along the way – one of whom turns out to be a set-up for a great gag that surprises us a few minutes later. A peaceful small town morning is evoked in a chorus of neighbourly greetings, each figure instantly and comically individualised. Bone's creation can be enjoyed on several levels at once – as an evocation of a beloved genre, as sharp parody, as inventive stage comedy and as a bravura performance. The three episodes of Bane each stand alone, but Bone is currently performing them all in rotation, and it is clear that audiences are not settling for just one. Gerald Berkowitz

Basic Training   Underbelly       ****      (reviewed at a previous Festival)
There is actually little that is unique or even especially dramatic in Kahlil Ashanti's autobiographical story, but the personality, versatility and intense energy of the performer make it one of the most entertaining and satisfying hours on the fringe. Ashanti joined the American Air Force but, after a few weeks of basic training, spent his entire tour of duty in the entertainment corps, touring bases around the world as a stand-up comic and occasional singer-dancer-stagehand. Providing a dramatic counterpoint to this upbeat experience was the fact that his mother told him the night before he left that the abusive man of the house wasn't his real father, but refused to help his ongoing attempt to learn more. In telling both stories, Ashanti plays himself and a few dozen other characters, from the loving mother and angry stepfather to a crusty sergeant and a camp entertainer, in a virtuoso display of his range and gusto. Since it is all true, perhaps only a curmudgeon will notice a hint of audience manipulation when, within the last ten minutes, he performs for a dying girl, defrosts his hard-nosed sergeant, stands up to his stepfather, liberates his mother, discovers that the girl's cancer has disappeared, and finally meets his father. Gerald Berkowitz

Best In The World   St. Stephen's       **
In the subcategory of theatre as therapy session, Best In The World is part pep talk, part introduction to the sport of darts, part team-building exercise, part celebration of excellence in all its forms. Writer Carina Rodney uses darts as a core because, performer Alex Elliott tells us, it is a democratic sport that anyone can become pretty good at with practice. Elliott then argues that what makes some people extraordinarily good is not so much native talent as total dedication, extensive practice – a champion, he calculates, is likely to throw more than twelve million darts in a career – and making the right choices at the right moment. He considers the careers of such darts greats as Taylor, Bristow and Wilson, along with stars in other fields, arguing that each met these requirements for success, and then encourages audience members to share their experiences of making the right decision at the right time, before bringing some onstage to try their hand at throwing darts. Elliott's performance is energetic and exhorting, adding to the sense that this script is better suited to a school auditorium, a corporate retreat or (shortened) an after-dinner speech than to a theatre. 
Gerald Berkowitz

Beulah   C Venue      ****
Via matey banter, strong harmonies, unexpected props and a gift for red herrings, Jim Harbourne and Ed Wren weave the tale of two lovers who flit in and out of Beulah, William Blake’s mystical world of that exists in our dreams between life and death. Courtesy of the Flanagan Collective and dubbed a “new folk musical”, it is a enchanting piece of storytelling on the surface and an expertly thought-out piece of theatre within. Time shifts and dances around itself as our heroine Lyca and hero Liam meet over various periods of their lifespans, possibly simultaneously. Love is a constant for them, just as global warming, rising seas and sunsets also figure large in the cycle of their story, told from different directions. Lions are mimed with gentle irony, time statistics rolled out with poetic comedy, characters conjured from crowns and capes, while music comes from Harbourne and Wren’s guitars, thumb piano, hand-harmonium and harp. At times we even hear the couple directly as Shona Cowie and Tom Bellerby provide the evocative voice-overs. Writer Alexander Wright, responsible for the exquisite Some Small Love Story, and director Bellerby have created a deceptively simple work that transcends mere storytelling and, aided by their winning lo-tech approach, this is a focused production that will successfully play the largest to the smallest of venues.  Nick Awde

Bitch Boxer   Underbelly       ****
Charlotte Josephine brings high energy and absolute authority to her self-written monologue. If this isn't actually her own story, she knows the character and her psychology inside-out and brings her fully-blown and convincing to the stage. Her mother left when Chloe was eleven, and her fight-promoter father judged wisely that physical activity would give her an outlet for her anger and got her training. Six years later Chloe recognises that being completely exhausted brought with it a peace that got her through those days. And in the interval, she's actually become a rather good boxer, with a real chance of being picked for the Olympics. But two things threaten her composure – her father's sudden death, which she can't grieve for in the ways everyone expects, and falling in love, which makes her feel all girly in unfamiliar ways. Charlotte Josephine tells Chloe's story in character, shadow boxing or jumping rope through much of it, and makes us believe the girl's determination and confusion. Whether sparring to the rhythms of Johnny Cash and Eminem or just sitting and talking, Josephine exudes the intelligence and bottled-up energy of one determined 'to prove to the whole world I'm worth something'. The play ends, inevitably, with the Olympics-qualifying bout, with Bryony Shanahan's tight direction and choreography contributing to the excitement.  Gerald Berkowitz

Blink   Traverse       ***
In most romantic comedies a lovely couple meet in a weird way, take some time to discover they're meant for each other, and live happily ever after. In Phil Porter's variant two quite weird people clearly not meant for each other try actively not to meet, do so anyway, seem to fit together despite the odds, and then decide to retreat into a relationship based on not connecting. He (Harry McEntire) is a refugee from a religious cult, while she (Rosie Wyatt) is so unformed that she is in constant danger of literally disappearing. Through unlikely means he gets to watch her on webcam, not knowing that she knows she's being watched. This brings out the latent stalker in him, so that he is soon following her around, unaware that she knows he's there and knows he doesn't know she knows. And that's all before the automobile accident that leaves someone in a coma. This is all meant, I think, to be endearingly kookie in a rom-com way, but the two characters are really too creepy for us to be totally comfortable in their company. Get past that hurdle, and the play's repeated upsetting of conventions and expectations may intrigue and amuse you, though I doubt that you'll leave as uncomplicatedly entertained as after most rom-coms – which, of course, may well be the point.  Gerald Berkowitz

Botallack O'Clock   Gilded Balloon       **
Eddie Elks' evocation of the artist Roger Hilton finds him in the middle of an insomniac night when the radio starts talking directly to him, offering his own private episode of Desert Island Discs. Between picking his selections and criticising the radio's interviewing skills, Dan Frost as Hilton rants against Blue Peter, recalls his student days in Paris, hallucinates a bear with whom he dances to the Andrews Sisters, plays hide-and-seek with the radio, and too infrequently says some things about art. The Paris sequence nicely conjures up the joy of youth and discovery, and some of Hilton's pronouncements on art ('Don't begin until you know what to do. Do nothing.' 'If your drawing is bad don't think it will get better.') are interesting. But the biographical or symbolic significance of the bear or the radio or Blue Peter is insufficiently explained and the gaps between meaningful sequences in this slow-moving piece too long. Dan Frost does what he can with the script, fighting not to come across as just another boring semi-coherent drunk. A closing montage of Hilton's paintings and photos of the artist and his workroom tells as much about him as what went before.  
Gerald Berkowitz

Bound   C Aquila       *
It is very rare that you come across a play that you cannot believe a minute of from start to finish, but this ill-conceived and badly acted drama is such a case. Nothing about the situation, the plot or the characters rings true, and stolid direction and wooden acting do not help things. Playwright Dylan Dougherty's premise is that three modern-day hoboes are riding a railroad boxcar across America. (Are there modern-day hoboes? Has anyone ridden a boxcar since the 1930s? Are there any boxcars in these days of container shipping?) The older man, a Belgian, is the father of the younger man, an Australian, and the younger guy's girlfriend is presumably American, though she has the thickest accent of the three. The younger man has always idolised his father for being a free spirit not tied down to ordinary responsibilities, and he now rejects his father for being a free spirit not tied down to ordinary responsibilities, the playwright evidently not noticing the contradiction. And then the father, totally out of character, shows that he does have ordinary responsibilities. And then the play ends. The three actors never look comfortable onstage, with long pauses and tentative movements repeatedly suggesting they've lost their way. With no programme handed out, I was prepared to believe there had been no director at all. There was one, I've learned, but I see no reason to name and shame him or the performers. Gerald Berkowitz

A Boy Growing Up   Assembly       **
Veteran comic actor Rodney Bewes reads from the reminiscences and stories of Dylan Thomas in this very low-key hour in which he makes no attempt to imitate or evoke Thomas's voice, not even a token Welsh accent. This is not Bewes as Dylan Thomas, but strictly Bewes reading Dylan Thomas, and not especially well. He stumbles over lines or loses his place in the script he holds so frequently that he has made it a running gag of the show – the set is a mock-up of a BBC radio studio, and every time Bewes makes a major flub he turns off the microphone, catches his breath and then turns it on to try again. The stories he reads, most excerpted from Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Dog, are alternately evocative and comic, and some of the power of Thomas's elegantly rolling prose sentences comes through even in Bewes' halting delivery. But this is strictly for the most loyal fans of Bewes, happy to see him in the flesh doing anything, and has too little to offer Dylan Thomas lovers. 
Gerald Berkowitz

Built For Two?   Space on the Mile       ***
Somebody's Theatre, a young company from Sheffield, make their debut with this bittersweet comedy by Emma Beverley and Lucy Kempster that is more successful in parts than as a whole. Set in the bathroom of the flat shared by Julie and Lizzie, and currently by Julie's boyfriend Peter, the play shows them and mutual friend Andrew preparing for a night on the town, vying for mirror access, and seeming to spend more time in that room than anywhere else in the flat. The minimal plot arises out of the fact that despite being with Peter Julie can't deny a romantic connection to Andrew, her oldest and dearest friend, while there is also an irresistible sexual frisson between Peter and Lizzie. The play doesn't get much further than setting up these situations, so that it can leave the feeling of being Act One of a longer work. Its strength lies in the authentic feel of the various conversations along the way – lovers' banter between Peter and Julie, guy talk between the two lads and girl talk between the roommates. Whether or not a second act to this play is ever written, there is clear evidence of talent here that bodes well for their next project. 
  Gerald Berkowitz

Bullet Catch   Traverse       ***
Rob Drummond's solo show is part storytelling, part metaphysical speculation and part magic act, and if the parts don't quite add up to a fully satisfying whole, there are pleasures along the way. At the centre of his attention is the supposedly dangerous magic trick in which the magician appears to catch a fired bullet in his mouth, and a particular occasion in which the trick went fatally wrong. Telling that tragic story involves a lot of atmospheric mood-setting along with digressions into questions of free will and divine providence, these things also serving as mystical context for the three or four magic tricks Drummond performs along the way – for example, he doesn't just pick a volunteer from the audience, but goes through some entertaining mind-reading mumbo-jumbo in the process. But the stately pacing of the mood-setting narrative and the metaphysical overlay sometimes get in the way of the magic. It is not enough for his volunteer to pick a card – she must think of some time in her life the card suggests, then conjure up an emotion associated with that time and then picture someone associated with that emotion. Drummond eventually identifies all of them, but by then we may well have forgotten the trick's premise. Frequently as well, the desire to give things a slow and eerie feel leads him to long pauses that may make you fear he's forgotten his lines, and when he finally gets, inevitably, to performing the bullet catch himself, it can't help being a bit of an anticlimax. Drummond is charming both as raconteur and illusionist, and if you reset your internal clock to match his stately pacing you can enjoy the various parts of an hour that doesn't quite hang together. Gerald Berkowitz


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Cambridge Footlights   Pleasance Dome       ****
Student revues have their ups and downs, but this is a very good year for Cambridge, which tops Oxford by a mile with a fast-moving string of sketches, almost all of which are actually funny (no small accomplishment) and many of which go off in surprising comic directions once you think you know where their joke is. A dolls-come-alive scene shifts gears when a made-in-China doll starts issuing orders, and the supermarket, Quasimodo, and blood donor sketches don't go where you expect them to, to your comic delight. There are nice variants on the running gags of inept bank robbers and a doctor delivering bad news. And, in a particularly clever bit of construction, many of the sketches are tied together in a skewed Pulp Fiction-style chronology (hint: keep your eye on the telephone) so that some minor point in an early sketch sets up a laugh twenty minutes later. The sprightly cast know they've got good material to work with, so they don't have to push it too hard, and their confidence helps you relax and enjoy their inventiveness.
  Gerald Berkowitz

Cancer Time  Venue 13       ****
The unlikely title offers little clue as to what this gem of a play is really about. Two young women work in a South Wales call centre. They deal with gas customer queries and (mainly) complaints in English - and Welsh if required. Relief comes in the shape of fag breaks outside. Beyond the tedium of work, boozy nights out or staying in is pretty much all that is on offer, which merely adds to the mundanity. Against this backdrop, an unlikely friendship develops. Iola (Alex Bull) is the chatty bubbly one, Mared (Emily Rees) is the sullen prickly one. Iola looks forward to those nights out on the town and tries to think of little else, Mared looks back on wasted opportunities and longs to do something with her life. An unlikely pairing maybe, but never underestimate the bonding of the fag bench. And so Iola strikes up conversations which Mared at first rebuffs – ironically with exquisite eloquence – until she realises that they are each prisoners of the same dead-end existence. Their exploration of this common ground provides a string of very human and often funny vignettes. Gary Owen’s ear for dialogue is spot-on, all the more so since he confidently retains – and celebrates - his characters’ Welsh identity without resorting to broad colloquialisms, tempting as this must have been, that risk alienating a broader audience. And even though the revelations of the final quarter seem a little tacked on in this promising production from Instant Reaction, the performances of Bull and Rees grow stronger and stronger as the action progresses. Directing themselves with enviable self-discipline, they clearly enjoy developing the ups and downs of this odd couple’s slowburn relationship while giving you the choice of rolling with the issues or simply revelling in these compelling portrayals.  Nick Awde

Candida  Assembly       ***
White Heron Theatre, a Massachusetts-based company, is interested in productions with what they call an 'educational component', suggesting theatre for schools. In the case of their Candida this results in an emphasis on clarity and simplicity. Shaw's text is intelligently edited down to an hour in a way that focuses on the central quasi-romantic triangle, omitting much of the social and philosophical debate and any potentially confusing complexity in the characters. Acting is direct and unsubtle, each character given only one or two colours – Morell (Michael Kopko) is confident and speechifying even in casual conversation, Marchbanks (Todd Bartels) a comical mix of Uriah Heap squirming and adolescent bravado, and Candida (Lynne Bolton) all motherly warmth and bemusement. Though the actors are all experienced professionals, the result frequently has the feel of good community theatre. No director is credited, although Bolton, as head of the company and the strongest actor, seems to be the guiding hand. The absence of any shading, depth or complexity to the characterisations and the resulting wholly external performances are likely to disappoint non-school audiences, but as a kind of plot summary introduction to Candida it serves its purpose. 
  Gerald Berkowitz

Captain Ferguson's School For Balloon Warfare  Assembly       ***
Before dispatching the American Expeditionary Force to lend its weight to the Allied Forces at the end of World War I, the unprepared USA had to go into overdrive to build a modern military machine that was ready - but in many cases untested - for the conflict in Europe. Enter Captain Ferguson, charged with positive thinking, and in charge of developing and training the newfangled, budget-draining aerial observation balloon corps designed to provide intelligence over the static trenches of the Western Front. Not only do his energies go into bootcamp training but also into an infectious sales patter worthy of an Apple keynote presentation. As the enthusiastic captain puts it to a panel of sceptical generals, his balloons are “not a funding opportunity but an investment in democracy”. Back at the camp, he guides us through the haphazard art of flying balloons and instructs on the precarious skills of manning them. We learn semaphore and the difference between Class A and D balloons before joining his recruits as they train in aerial spotting, crackly radio communication, and how to abandon a highly combustible hydrogen balloon deflating over the heads of the enemy - and their guns. As the captain, David Nelson convinces at all times as the small-town Kansas boy eager to make his mark on the world, winning the loyalty of his men and and willing to risk the ultimate sacrifice for their sakes. Thanks to Isaac Rathbone’s informative script, the statistics of aerial warfare turn into verbal ballet, and the authentic world of Heath Robinson-like balloons more than justifies the recurrent humour, ably guided by Philip Emeott’s direction.  Nick Awde

Captain Ko And The Planet Of Rice  Underbelly       **
This is one of those shows that are far more impressive in their programme self-description than in actuality. We are promised 'a way of folding the past, the present and the future all together [to] express some of the difficulty and fragility of our perception of time.' In practice we get three partially or wholly mimed sketches. A parody of 1950s sci-fi movies runs out of comic steam about the point where the monster seems to be a distortion of time that keeps the astronauts in an eternal loop. An old woman mimes (not very precisely) making her tea, gets distracted by some birds in her garden and then starts all over, all to over-amplified sound effects – this, the programme tells us, is an evocation of Alzheimer's. Finally we get the story of the cosmonaut left briefly forgotten on the space station as the USSR disintegrated – this consists of a man lying on his back waving his arms and legs about while a recorded voice tells the whole story. It is noteworthy that no director is credited, and creator-performers Valentina Ceschi and Thomas Eccleshare could only have benefited from someone out front telling them how very far their performance comes from matching their perception of it.    Gerald Berkowitz

Casablanca - The Gin Joint Cut  Gilded Balloon       *****
Moving almost seamlessly from respectful copy to campy spoof to backstage farce and back again, this salute to the iconic film treats it with unwavering love throughout, celebrating it even when sending it up. Much of the fun comes from doing it with a cast of three, Gavin Mitchell playing Bogart playing Rick, Clare Waugh handling both Ilsa and the German major, and hard-working Jimmy Chisholm undertaking the Claude Rains, Paul Henried and Peter Lorre roles, sometimes within the same scene. Meanwhile all three also play the actors in a provincial company putting on this show and aware there's a casting agent for a musical out front. All the key scenes of the film are here, most of them played with respectful accuracy, only to catch us up short when pianist Sam is played by a music box doll, Chisholm's Laszlo enlists the audience in a singalong Marseillaise, Mitchell's Rick challenges an onstage smoking ban with an elaborate mime, or people start breaking into dance to audition for their next job. Inventive from start to finish, this will delight all lovers of the original, though it may be difficult to go back and see the film again with a straight face.   Gerald Berkowitz

Churchill  Assembly Rooms     ****
Pip Utton's career as a portrayer of real people in self-written monologues began more than a dozen years ago with a show about Hitler, so it is perhaps about time for him to get around to Churchill, but the wait has certainly been worth it, because this hour is one of Utton's finest. He begins with the fantasy that the statues in Parliament Square come alive for an hour every time Big Ben strikes thirteen ('Lincoln always goes to the theatre – he forgets he won't see the second act.') Utton's Churchill steps down from his plinth to his old offices, pours himself a generous whiskey, and chats amiably with us, not just about historical events, but about his marriage, his cigars and his envy of Nelson for having a bigger column to stand on. Some familiar anecdotes and quotations appear, though Utton tends to steer away from them to more personal insights, like Churchill's egotistical but usually correct assertion that he was almost always right when he and the government of the moment disagreed, and his explanation that his marriage survived despite their having very different interests because they shared one overriding interest – him. Utton doesn't push the impersonation into parody as too many Churchill imitators do – he's padded himself up a little and lowered the natural timbre of his voice, and that's really enough. And as an added attraction to this evocative and entertaining portrayal, there's a lot more humour than some might expect, with Utton's Churchill telling more jokes and getting more laughs than many stand-up comics.    Gerald Berkowitz

Clinton - The Musical  Gilded Balloon     ****
This peppy little musical literalises the oft-made comment that there were two Bill Clintons, the hard-working and visionary president and the randy sod who couldn't keep his flies closed, by casting two actors who constantly fight for supremacy in this high-speed romp through his (pun inevitable) rise and fall. Of course, for the sake of humour Michael Hodge's book reduces everything and everyone to cartoon simplicity – Monica Lewinsky is a messy mop of hair saying nothing but 'Me! Me! Me!' – but he actually does get the story pretty much right, and certainly a hell of a lot more fun than it was the first time around. Paul Hodge's bouncy score, ranging from country hoe-down to show biz razzle-dazzle, has the occasional inevitable echo of Sondheim or Lloyd Webber, and his lyrics depend a little too much on the constant repetition of a few standard-issue obscenities for their wit, but they fit the modest and just-having-fun tone of the whole. Stephen Arden and John McLarnon play the serious and frivolous Clintons, making each one a convincing half of the man, and Ruthie Luff is a no-nonsense Hillary. You don't have to care about American politics, or even remember the story, to enjoy this guilty pleasure.   Gerald Berkowitz

Nina Conti  Pleasance Dome      ****
If ever there was a performer seemingly trapped by her own success, it was Nina Conti a few years ago. The very talented ventriloquist-comedienne had found a sure thing in her dummy, a foul-talking monkey who really did seem to be surprising her with his ad libs. She spent several years trying to stretch herself beyond dependence on Monk, with little success until 2011, when she came up with several interesting new characters and gimmicks. This year's show is a bit of marking time, exploring some of this new territory. Monk is back, inevitably, and so is Granny, the sweet Scottish lady who does mind-reading tricks. The dummy of herself as a young girl has potential, but the old man and the tutu-clad bulldog just have no material, and the six-foot builder (who requires an audience volunteer to provide his body) has Monk's voice. As happened last year, the monkey's brief appearance gets the loudest cheers, while putting cartoon mouths on a couple of audience members and turning them into living dummies gets the biggest laughs. Conti remains one of the quickest-thinking and funniest vents around, and any unevenness in her show is caused by characters that don't give her the chance to display her skills.   Gerald Berkowitz

The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean  Traverse@Scottish Book Trust       ***
A gently quiet bit of storytelling, Shona Reppe's hour is not for very small children or those who need lots of action and involvement. But if they can sit, watch and listen, they can get caught up in a tale that is part magic, part romance and part detective story. Reppe presents herself as an investigator of other people's scrapbooks, looking for clues in what they chose to save. She opens an old scrapbook and invites us to watch her exploring, considering, even smelling and tasting, with occasional slide projections and a bit of shadow puppetry helping us visualise what she's discovering. She makes some very clever guesses and a few wrong ones, finding her way to a magical nineteenth-century love story. The one serious criticism of her piece is that she does it all, leaving the kids with nothing to do but sit and watch very little happening very slowly, and so everything depends on her weaving a spell to hold them and them having the capacity to be held without really being involved in the experience. It's possible that adults will appreciate Reppe's assumed persona of wide-eyed wonder and her many little throwaway jokes even more than the kids. Gerald Berkowitz


Dead Man's Cell Phone  C Venue       **
A man dies in a cafe, and the woman at the next table impulsively picks up his ringing phone and answers it, thus beginning the process of involving herself in his life, his family and his morally dubious activities. Sarah Ruhl's play is part psychological drama, part black comedy, part fable and part Woody Allenish New York ethnic rom com. The teenage actors of the Red Chair Players, based in a Connecticut prep school, capture almost none of this, through no fault of their own. They are all clearly following their teacher/director's instructions, remembering their lines and speaking clearly, but they have been given too little guidance toward creating characters or establishing (or even recognising) the appropriate tone. The play only makes sense, for example, if the main character is a bit of a New York kook, but she's played absolutely straight, while characters with Jewish names are played as repressed WASPs, fantasy scenes are leaden and there is only the rarest indication that anyone realises that any of it is meant to be funny. You can vaguely sense some of what the playwright wanted if you mentally plug the characters from Friends (or any other New York-based sitcom) into it, but you'll get very little help from what's actually there in front of you. I repeat that none of this is the fault of the student actors, who work diligently at what they've been told to do, but they've been failed by their director. Gerald Berkowitz

Desperately Seeking the Exit  Edinburgh City Football Club      ****
A few years ago a pot-fuelled 'what if?' session led to writer-performer Peter Michael Marino coming up with the idea of a stage musical version of the film Desperately Seeking Susan with the music of Blondie. It seemed at first that the gods loved the idea, because he rapidly found a Broadway producer, wrote the script, got all the needed rights and hired a star director. Then they lost the star director, lost some rights, found a London producer and a star London director, cast the musical and went into production, discovered he star director knew nothing about musicals, got back some of the rights, and went through the general hell leading up to opening night in London and the special hell following the reviews. Enough time has passed for Marino to be able to look back at the misadventure with some philosophical detachment, and he takes us through it in a monologue sprinkled liberally with named (Madonna, Debbie Harry) and unnamed (most of his collaborators) heroes and villains, pausing along the way to comment wittily on the language and culture gaps he kept encountering as the only American in the production. Marino tries his best not to whinge (one of the Britishisms he was introduced to), but he can't help presenting himself as the put-upon victim of everyone else's incompetence and ego trips. Hey, he's as likely to be telling the true story as anyone else, and he's probably a lot more entertaining.  Gerald Berkowitz

Dickens' Women  Pleasance      ****
Miriam Margolyes shares her love of and occasional exasperation with Charles Dickens in this program of readings and commentary that gives the popular actress full opportunity to display her skills and versatility. Touching on characters ranging from the sweet to the grotesque, the comic to the pitiable, and the fictional to the real women in Dickens' life that inspired them, Margolyes makes the case that, while not necessarily the kindest or least sexist man of his age, the novelist could certainly create memorable female characters. High points include the surprisingly cheery undertaker's aide Mrs. Gamp from Martin Chuzzlewit, The Old Curiosity Shop's Little Nell in an uncharacteristically happy moment, Bleak House's pathetic Miss Flite and the ghostly Miss Havisham of Great Expectations, but the single most enjoyable sequence has her playing both roles in Beadle Bumble's wooing of Mrs. Corney in Oliver Twist. Margolyes also races through a dismissive medley of some of Dickens' soppier heroines and a more respectful one of his independent spinsters. The actress maintains a warm rapport with her audience throughout, and if much of the programme might be just as effective on radio, there is no doubt that her physical presence adds to the warmth of the hour.  
 Gerald Berkowitz

Dirty Great Love Story  Pleasance Dome     ****
Rich is on a stag party and Katie on a hen night when their eyes meet across a dance floor and it is indifference at first sight, so they are both surprised to wake up in bed together the next morning. Richard March and Katie Bonna's modern love story, in which they also star, follows their fictional selves through a couple of years of misadventures, out-of-sync attraction and rejection and never quite managing to figure out what is obvious to us – that they're made for each other. Among other problems, he always, always says the wrong thing, and she only seems to find him sexually attractive when she's too drunk to do anything about it. March and Bonna have written this skewed rom-com in rhymed couplets and triplets full of internal rhymes, so it may take a while for you to recognise that they're actually using the verse structure of rap with great wit and inventiveness. So, while a lot of the fun is in the story they tell and enact, a lot is also in the way they tell it. As performers, both bring loads of personality and an endearing geeky charm to their characters. Dirty Great Love Story keeps you hoping that this star-crossed couple will finally get it together and get together, and keeps you happily entertained throughout the journey. 
 Gerald Berkowitz

Dr Quimpugh's Compendium of Peculiar Afflictions  Summerhall      *****
Martin Ward (music) and Phil Porter (libretto) have created a charming, touching, amusing and pleasantly melodic chamber opera out of gleanings from Oliver Sacks and other collectors of psychological oddities. Psychologist Dr Quimpugh fears his life's work has no meaning, so his nurses take him through a catalogue of past cases, playing all the roles in their re-enactment. There's the man who was convinced he was dead, the woman with an alien hand she couldn't control, the teenage girl who had orgasms just thinking of great art, the woman who wanted to eat everything she saw, and so on. As that list suggests, the episodes range from sombre to comical (The doctor and the orgasmic girl's mother get caught up in her ecstasy), with Ward's music ranging from lushly operatic to the bouncy rhythms of music hall. Robert Gildon, Tamsin Dalley and Natalie Raybould are all excellent actor-singers, and Dr Quimpugh's Compendium is likely to linger in your memory long after other Fringe shows are forgotten.    Gerald Berkowitz

Durham Revue  Underbelly     ****
In several recent years Durham's student revue has given the better-known Oxbridge companies a real run for their money in the comedy stakes. This year's edition, while perhaps not at the absolute peak of their high standard, is certainly first-rate, and miles ahead of Oxford's very weak entry. The sketches are inventive, original, repeatedly surprising and above all funny. They find new twists on such staples as the actor's audition and the awkward blind date, and repeatedly set up a sketch that seems to be going in one direction only to have it veer into unexpected comic territory. There's a string of quick movie-reference gags that will make you laugh out loud and that wisely don't hang around once they've got that laugh. And most unusually there are some sketches that assume the audience have actually read a book or two. Very high marks for originality and comedy. 
 Gerald Berkowitz


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The Economist  C Nova     ***
Written by Tobias Manderson-Galvin and developed and presented by the Australian company MKA, this is a fiction openly based on the life of Anders Breivik, the Norwegian super-nationalist who killed 77 people he considered dangerously liberal in 2011. The text takes him through childhood, obsession with computer war games, studying economics at university, being rejected by the army for being too weird, joining gun clubs and building up an arsenal, to the massacre and his happy surrender to police, sure that he will be hailed as a national hero. Van Badham's production casts an actress, Zoey Dawson, as the Breivik figure, to no special effect, while five other performers play Everyone Else in a smooth-flowing and frequently inventive ensemble. The playwright's fidelity to his sources may be too strict for effective drama, as the play ultimately doesn't tell us much that we didn't get from the news – for example, his fear of immigrant contamination of Norway is given no background, and his anger at this particular group insufficiently explained. More imaginative guesswork about the killer's personality or psychology would probably have made for a more successful play. As it is, this is more like a TV reconstruction, the more-or-less accurate story with actors playing the roles, delivering information but not enlightenment or understanding.  Gerald Berkowitz

Edinburgh Revue Sketch Show   Banshee Labyrinth     ***
Edinburgh University's entry in the undergraduate revue stakes makes a respectable showing, not up to Cambridge's high standard this year, but better than Oxford. While few of the sketches are world-beaters, there are no duds, so the general level is a consistently entertaining one. A quick history of Edinburgh, dinosaurs to undergrads, makes a bright opener and the bright and perky songs about disease a strong finale. In between, the job centre, TV game show, rent-a-friend and Scientology-type pep talk may not break new ground, but find legitimate jokes in the premises. The roommate sketch and the bicycle race are both original and funny, as is the Catwoman running gag. It's being presented as part of the pass-the-hat-afterwards Free Fringe, and those who give generously are getting their money's worth.  Gerald Berkowitz

Educating Ronnie  Assembly     ***
In 2002, during a gap year visit to Uganda, Joe Douglas became friendly with Ronnie, a local boy about his age. The friendship continued through texts and e-mails after Douglas's return home until a message came requesting 20 a month for Ronnie's school fees. Computing that in terms of pints of beer, Douglas decided that even as a poor student himself he could afford to help his friend. The fees increased the next year and then turned into college costs and then medical expenses, and then . . . . As Douglas explains in this simple and open monologue, it did occur to him that it could be a scam, but he found that it was important to him to be the kind of person who took that chance. Aided only by projections of Ronnie's messages, read by an unseen actor, and by some unobtrusive music, Douglas brings the story up to date, resolving all its questions, painting a picture not only of his Ugandan friend and the complex moral world he inhabited, but also of Douglas himself as a man of admirable character and integrity, in an hour that is quietly uplifting and inspiring.  
Gerald Berkowitz

An Evening With Dementia  Spaces on the Royal Mile       ****     (reviewed at a previous Festival)
Probably the best measure of this show’s success was the number of young people in the audience giggling delightedly and jumping to their feet in a standing ovation at its end. Trevor T. Smith, a one-time member of Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop and a regular TV face in the 1980s, has booked himself into what seems to be a predominantly student venue and it is working a treat.  I imagine that the subject of his show – old age and dementia – carries all sorts of benefits with it. If nothing else, forgetting one’s lines and repeating oneself is thoroughly justifiable. But Smith is a consummate professional both as an actor and as the author of his script. Opening with a succession of quips and gags masquerading as tips and tricks on how to deal with memory loss, Smith’s narrative culminates in a searing satire on a society which has become demented by ‘forgetting the memory of their humanity’. There are moments of poetry and playfulness here too, and as a self-confessed former thespian, our hero will turn his thoughts to the meaning of the shared experience too. A gem that will be remembered for a long time.    Duska Radosavljevic

Fabled     Bongo Club     ****
Lois of the Lane has turned up in the depths of a studio to enact a series of children’s stories for what may or may not be a video session. Mysteriously, our usually plucky performer is a little nervous, unsettled by the voice directing from the control room, but she soon gets stuck in. In a compellingly comic performance, she mimes the stories as the voice narrates, aided by a bottomless chest from which she plucks an infinite variety of props. As wordless Lois and her disembodied narrator warm up, it is clear they have done this before. Despite her evident misgivings – and the constant phone interruptions from the narrator’s producer and friends – she determines to trust her colleague. The ensuing whimsical tales soon turn from bouncily cute to darkly surreal where time rewinds back on itself and monsters lurk in adjoining rooms. But, as anyone who has met Lois of the Lane before knows, she is not the type to give in, no matter the challenge, and we’ll always see the funny side of it. And, anyway, might this all be a dream? Played to a precision-timed soundtrack of sound effects and recorded characters led by Oliver Kaderbhai’s comically easily distracted narrator, diffused with a soundtrack of song snippets and blasting collages, this is a show whose technical complexity is made to appear convincingly simple. Lois Tucker’s Chaplinesque approach to expression is remarkable, melding smooth physicality with the ability to instantly communicate emotion. However it is oddly diluted in her latest outing. Most importantly, the narrative needs a physical frame – a set of screens or simple backdrop would do – since the blank stage space around Tucker, despite the glorious clutter of props at her feet, somehow diffuses the convergence of her movement with the story. Director Angela Gasparetto should have spotted this in the otherwise spot-on job she has done for this production. Writing-wise there is a similar dilution where the ambitious plot is not as linear as it should be, often taking a jump too many, and so risks leaving the audience behind and distracting from the action.  Nick Awde

The Fantasist     Underbelly     ****
Welcome to the topsy-turvy of the bipolar world where everything’s (mostly) okay so long as you keep taking the medication. However, since Louise’s condition takes her to parallel worlds where she doesn’t so much as drift in and out but is hurled from one to the other by the creatures she meets there, keeping a sensible routine is not as easy as it looks. That wardrobe, for example, looks empty but, depending on where Louise finds herself, it also happens to be a portal to a nightmarish Narnia, from which mad, bad things emerge, each a different facet of her hopes and fears. A tall dark silent stranger dances seductively, offers potions and opens dark doors leading to who knows where. Disembodied heads of mutilated women matily cajole in comic doggerel. A small artist’s model, Morph-like comes to life to delight her but breaks our hearts when it realises it is too small to protect its new friend. Louise also has firm support on the human side of her life, the Friend and the Care-worker. They watch out for her but, when coping with someone who lives half her life in a surreal world that whizzes by at ten times the speed of everyone else, the effort can be wearing. Indeed, increasingly finding herself dodging reality checks, Louise is approaching dangerous waters. As Louise, Julia Yevnine flips with ease between the dialogue of one world and the physicality of the other, convincingly channeling the different facets of an individual balancing realities, and she plays to the strengths of this company-devised work. Julia Correa captures the dilemma of the Friend who wants to help but cannot, while as the Care-worker Cat Gerrard is all chat and bustle. The latter two double less successfully as puppeteers – too much body movement reflecting their puppets’ actions distracts and detracts. Theatrical renderings, particularly physical, of mental illness usually end up as self-indulgent exercises, but this version is anything but. Under Ailin Conant’s tight direction, this is an accomplished technical piece that keeps on-track in hitting the emotions while avoiding any mawkishness or issue-dodging.  Nick Awde

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Fascinating Aida - The Cheap Flights Tour     Gilded Balloon   *****    (reviewed at a previous Festival)
If you are a fan of Fascinating Aida, you don't need me to send you to their latest show. And if you don't know this veteran trio of singing comediennes, hie thee hence to the Gilded Balloon for an hour of delight. In the tradition of Flanders & Swann or Noel Coward, sweet FA sing self-penned songs skewering everything from budget airlines to this morning's news, sex in carparks to taking mother on a one-way holiday to Switzerland. Actually a lot of people may be coming to the trio for the first time this year, as their budget airline song, after which the show is named, has become a YouTube hit, and many will have the adventure of discovering how funny they are on other topics – and what good song writers they are, as the one serious number, about absent friends, demonstrates beautifully. That said, I have to admit that long-time FA fans may find this year's show not quite top-level. As they'll know, Dillie Keane (the blonde pianist) and Adele Anderson (the tall brunette) are constants and there have been a string of third persons over the years. This year's Sarah-Louise Young is lovely to look at and listen to, but she hasn't developed a comic character yet, and is essentially just a third voice. And while everyone likes to hear old favourites, a little too much of this show, including all the songs I've mentioned so far, just repeats 2010's programme. But those are cavils. They're funny. Go.  Gerald Berkowitz

Tim Fitzhigham - Stop The Pigeon!   Pleasance   **** 
Tim Fitzhigham belongs to that breed of comics who spend part of the year doing something truly odd and the rest talking about it. In the past he has reported on his comic misadventures traversing the length of the Thames in a papier mach canoe, rowing across the English Channel and marching through Spain in full armour in emulation of Don Quixote. This year he uncovered records of the kinds of wagers eighteenth-century gentlemen made to fill their idle hours and waste their excess wealth, and took one on, betting a friend he could send a letter fifty miles in an hour, using only eighteenth-century methods. The Post Office was obviously out of the question, inserting it in a cricket ball and batting it back and forth didn't work, the Royal Armaments for some reason wouldn't let him borrow a cannon, and he learned that although homing pigeons do find their way home, they're not always in any particular hurry to do so. With film and slides to prove that everything he says is true, Tim tells us of his adventure with his engaging mix of wild-eyed enthusiasm and bemusement at his own madness, and keeps the audience cheering for him and laughing with him in equal measure.   Gerald Berkowitz

Fitzrovia Radio Hour   Gilded Balloon   *****
I am a sucker for the genre of Fringe show in which a small cast play all the roles in some epic, the absurdity of the task and their difficulty keeping up with the costume and accent changes part of the fun. And The Fitzrovia Radio Hour raises the genre by quantum levels by setting their show in a 1940s radio studio, adding sound effects, music bridges and fighting for the microphone to the mix. And what's more, they tell not one epic story but four, along with commercials, 'Stay tuned for' teasers and one cast member who goes mad and replaces their scripts with his own concoction. The five performers – Jon Edgley Bond, Letty Butler, Samara Maclaren, Tom Mallaburn and Phil Mulryne – play a dozen roles each, switching hats (which they wouldn't do on radio but which adds to the fun for us) for each one while also providing some clever and absurd sound effects (a do-it-yourself trepanning, anyone?), and the choreography of their rushing from one mic to another is brilliant in itself. Meanwhile, the radio scripts they enact, of a possessed and murderous bicycle, a plucky girl aviator, and an alien invasion, are spot-on parodies of their respective genres and would be fun to follow even without all the craziness going on around them. To call this a fast-moving hour is an understatement – it's downright frantic, and inventive and hilarious from start to finish. 
.   Gerald Berkowitz

Flanders and Swann   Pleasance   ****    (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
This salute to the duo who pioneered genteel song-and-patter comedy in the 1950s is a delight that does not rely on nostalgia or even knowledge of the originals for the fun, though I must admit I was surprised that everyone in the audience, young and old, could join in the chorus of the Hippopotamus Song ('Mud, mud, glorious mud...') without prompting. Perhaps it's one of those things, like the Goon Show voices and the Dead Parrot sketch that have entered the British DNA. Duncan Walsh Atkins, quietly droll at the piano, and Tim Fitzhigham, boisterously welcoming at the microphone and singing in an attractive baritone, take us through a dozen F&S classics, from the aforementioned Hippo through Have Some Madeira M'Dear, Transports of Delight and I'm a Gnu. Tim's intersong chatter is new but fully in the F&S mode, taking on the blimpish persona of a Kensington Tory deigning to work alongside his south-London accompanist, and the moment in which he plays a french horn concerto by blowing into one end of a music stand is truly remarkable. All together now, 'I'm a gnu, a gnother gnu....' Gerald Berkowitz
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Gilbert And Sullivan In Brief(s)   Pleasance      ***
As advertised, four singers and a pianist take us through the entire G&S canon in an hour. Well, they cheat a little with the shows nobody knows, like Thespis and The Grand Duke, which leaves them about five minutes each for the ones everyone knows even if they don't know they know them. Structurally, this usually means a brief introduction followed by one relatively unfamiliar song and one familiar one, though The Mikado gets a total abridgement, with the cast racing through a few bars of every single number in the show. Actually, there would be a lot more time for G&S in this show if writer Ray Cullom didn't feel the need to invent clichd characterisations (the dumb bimbo, the feuding exes, etc.) and supposedly funny business (trouble with props, rivalry over songs, etc.) for the singers and just let them get on with it. Gilbert and Sullivan are the attraction, and they're better writers than Cullom, and Parker Andrews, Kate Chapman, Carolann Sanita and Matthew Thompson far more entertaining when they're serving the masters than when they're straining to be funny.  Gerald Berkowitz

Going Green The Wong Way   Venue 13      ***
Californian Kristina Wong recounts her experiences as an eco-warrior in this intermittently comic monologue. She begins with her misadventures in buying a pink 1981 Mercedes that had been retrofitted to run on cooking oil, only to discover that getting the right kind of cooking oil was difficult and expensive and the car broke down with disturbing frequency on its way to ultimately bursting into flames. To show that this was not an isolated go at ecological correctness, she takes us back to her eleven-year-old self attempting a love-the-earth rap in a school assembly, her sixteen-year old self selling Sierra Club memberships door-to-door, and a stand-up routine hawking the virtues of reusable cloth sanitary napkins and mooncups. Along the way she chats with Mother Nature, a recorded voice that sounds a bit like Harvey Fierstein, who assures her she's doing the right thing and encourages her to keep it up. Too rarely laugh-out-loud funny and sometimes opaque to British audiences, as when she tries to explain the absurdity of travelling around Los Angeles by bus, Wong's hour has perhaps half that much good material stretched too thin.  Gerald Berkowitz

Grit   Bedlam      ***
The product of the young, inventive and ambitious Tortoise In A Nutshell company, Grit is an evocation of the horrors of war through puppetry and multimedia effects. It has strong moments, but too often the theatrical devices get in the way of its effectiveness, calling attention to themselves more than to what they're conveying. A puppet girl or woman going through the effects of what we will come to understand was a war photographer (her father? husband?) discovers images that are then displayed for us. A series of photos are projected on screens held by the performers, who move forward and back to create the effect of zooming in and out. A puppet child plays in the sand until tanks and guns move in and clear him away with extreme prejudice. Live actors present children playing soldiers until they get carried away with their own violence. A city constructed out of cardboard cartons is knocked down to the sound of shelling. Some of this is better in theory than practice – the projected photos can't be seen clearly from all parts of the audience – and too much of it says 'Oh how clever we are'. It may be an odd criticism to make when few companies have the imagination and potential of this one, but they have to learn to rein in their creativity and keep it in the service of their message.  
 Gerald Berkowitz

Growing Old Disgracefully   Gilded Balloon      ****
'Are there any young people in the audience?' demands agony aunt extraordinaire Virginia Ironside with a mischievous twinkle. A good number of hands are nervously raised. 'Then you won't understand a word of this!' comes the instant tongue-in-cheek retort. Ironside is being modest. There is no denying that there is a core audience of a certain age for a well-known sixty-something's thoughts on growing old and crinkly, but the best observational humour is universal, and this is not a show to disprove that. And  so she launches into a whiz-tour of thoughts on negotiating life in the third age. There are the changing and often illogical attitudes as she makes the transition from young woman to grandmother, the increasing aches and pains that lead to pill regimes, and the moaning about arthritis and the trick of lifting oneself from a char after a deep afternoon snooze without breaking wind. Oh, and there's sex (or its absence) of course. Lashings of that. There's barely room to squeeze in her life story, from one-night stands and interviewing the Beatles as a liberated 60s chick to her groundbreaking work in the national agony columns and the dismay of having to go up against Mariella Frostrup. She also ensures that a subtle moral beat underlies it all without being intrusive. Though the veteran of  countless TV and live appearances, Ironside is not the most natural of solo show performers, but Nigel Planer's direction nicely structures the hour, freeing Ironside to concentrate on the audience, moving them to laughs and groans of happy recognition. Nick Awde

Hell's Bells   Pleasance      ****

The scene: a voice-over studio. Enter members of the team that brought you the long-cancelled Mrs Milliner, a TV costume drama about hats, unfortunately overshadowed by the far more popular House of Eliott. Their simple task, 16 years on, is to provide an audio commentary for an upcoming DVD of the series. It’s all promising to be an excellent luvvie exercise in nostalgia – except the actress who played the maid and is now a Hollywood celeb hasn’t appeared, the writer is getting cold feet, and no one has a clue who the man with the hats is. Unsurprising, then, that things promptly unravel into glorious mayhem. Will writer Carmen admit she buried her dashed hopes in her kennel business? Will Phyllis realise talking about the past won’t bring the spark back to her faded star? And will Simon ever stop talking about hats? As Carmen and Simon find themselves at loggerheads during recording, a harder side reveals itself as Carmen’s motives for writing the series come under scrutiny. When the pair can fight no more, for relief they start on the hapless Phyllis and her illusions. Sonia Beck is a bundle of comic energy as the bitter Carmen hiding behind a bluff veneer, matched by Janet Ellis who is unsettingly convincing as the dippy yet complex Phyllis, the actress who wants to be everyone’s friend. Martin Miller brings doe-eyed affability with a hint of steel to the beset-upon Simon who valiantly fights to make his voice heard. Guaranteeing they deliver is Simon Scullion, whose skilful direction never once takes its finger off the comic pulse. Lynn Truss’s choice for her first stage play neatly builds on her prior form in radio comedy drama, and she has the cut of her audience’s jib – despite the ill-chosen title. Stylewise she captures the cadences of each of her characters, including the instant switch into laid-back commentary that each makes for the microphones the moment the video roles. It will be interesting to work out how to expand this one-acter, given that it is a rippingly spot-on production that deserves to tour and tour. Nick Awde




Hot   C Venue      ****
How do you follow up an award-winning cabaret hit that wowed audiences the world over and garnered a string of fringe five-star pearls? Well, Damsel Sophie has the answer. Or not as the case may be. Unlucky for our star, she suffered a major creative block. Which is lucky for us. That previous outing was The Damsel in Shining Armour (loads of Celine Dion), dripping with plaudits, praise and paeans, but after a triumphant return home to Harrogate this North Yorks diva sank into a bottomless trough of un-inspiration that, hey presto, inspired this a delightully dippy – and seriously funny - show about not doing a show. And boy does she let us know it. “This Is Not a Cabaret!” she yells at the top of her voice, even through a megaphone. What ensues is a wickedly tongue in cheek romp through every genre in the book as our heroine flirts with the routes that may or may not put her back in the spotlight. Will she, won’t she, rediscover her passion for Adele? Will she, won’t, she utter the C-word by final curtain? Will she, won’t she jump on every male in the audience? Sophie’s bouncy script takes her on a journey through the alternatives on offer, from call centre to teaching English. But the lure of show biz is too great and, after a brief ukelele episode, there follows a homage to Adele, a bizarre Little Donkey clapathon the Divine David would be proud of, and an inspired piss-take of French physical theatre involving donkey ears and a mauve leotard.  Alexander Wright’s wisely hands-off direction gives Sophie’s natural exuberance free rein while also allowing the audience ample room to share in the intimacy of her OTT soul-baring – and you’ll find yourself rooting and hooting for Damsel Sophie’s redemption through the healing songs of cabaret.  Nick Awde

How A Man Crumbled   Summerhall     ****
Three performers, shabbily bedecked, splayed against the wall, expectantly eying up the audience as we file in. It's one of those by now overfamiliar beginnings beloved of anyone who has studied physical theatre east of Norwich. Throw in the equally familiar leitmotifs of grimacing babooshkas, barked Russian, leather suitcases, doomed writer at desk, and you'll understand the slight sinking in this critic’s stomach. Happily, this critic could not have been more wrong. On closer examination Clout Theatre's trio in fact appear to be garbed more like Toyah, Son of Berkoff and Frank Spencer. And what transpires in this company-devised piece, is a bold and winning combination of French and Russian genres laced with lashings of British music-hall comedy as they launch into a retelling of The Old Woman, a novella by Soviet Russian absurdist Daniil Kharms. Genres are mixed and shuffled at dazzling speed. Topsy-turvy acrobatics turn speech upside-down, a stuffing-body-into-suitcase routine is impressive, while a babooshka haka somehow manages to be the most natural thing in the world. Projected constructivist snippets of dialogue flit across the back, somehow lending order to the mash-up mayhem. Although the silent movie undertow doesn't quite pan out and the lo-tech hand-held spots can be distracting, Jennifer Swingler, George Ramsay and Sacha Plaige make expert work of Mine Cerci's tight direction – it’s a team as notable for its technique as a great sense of humour. This one should tour – it’ll make a lot of converts to physical theatre.  Nick Awde

I Heart Hamas   Gryphon   ***
Like many hyphenated Americans, Jennifer Jejah wasn't sure how to feel about the heritage preceding her hyphen, whether to be proud or embarrassed or just try not to mention it. And the fact that she was Palestinian-American created further confusion, as nobody around her was quite sure how to feel about it either. And so, like many hyphenated Americans she went looking for her roots, despite Palestine not even being on most maps. A year and a half in her parents' home town of Ramallah didn't provide her with many answers but made her understand the questions better. In a moving and frequently comic solo performance, Jejah takes us along on her geographical and emotional journey. She is honest and brave enough to admit her own shallowness – at first her biggest issue with the Intifada was that it interfered with partying – but her ultimate point is that if someone as politically unaware as she could eventually become enraged by the privations and indignities of everyday Palestinian life, then we must understand the violent reactions of those who live there. Not likely to convince anyone not already sympathetic, Jejah's writing and performance do succeed admirably in giving a human face to the issue. 
 Gerald Berkowitz

I Heart Peterborough   Pleasance   **** 
Fifteen years ago gay teenager Lulu loved straight Mark, who loved a girl who loved Lulu. Lulu got nowhere with Mark, but against the odds the girl got herself impregnated by Lulu. And now Lulu's son Hew appears at his door. Both social misfits in separate ways, they actually create a happy little island of refuge for themselves until Hew gets the opportunity to be popular and Mark moves back into town, and father and son both have to take the risk of making disastrous fools of themselves. Joel Horwood's play, which he directs, is presented mainly through Lulu's eyes, and is about the comforts and dangers of living in a fantasy world. People who get by by deluding themselves do get by after a fashion, and it is a big and frightening step to give up that security and try to function in the real world. Milo Twomey and Jay Taylor sympathetically convey the fragility of both characters, leading us to wish them well as they face the challenge of broken dreams in their different ways.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Idiot At The Wall   Bedlam   ****
Elspeth Turner has written what I have always thought of as the archetypal Traverse play – Scottish (of course), solidly set in a local environment that is fully realised, and yet with spiritual or supernatural overtones that enrich the sense of a special place and time – and First Bicycle do it full justice in the more modest setting of the Bedlam. In 1919 an English folklorist comes to a remote Scottish island to record its stories and songs. His guide is an island woman who escaped to London, his hostess is her stay-at-home sister. Inevitably the sisters become rivals for him and the alternative life he represents, and the fact that their mildly addled brother, the title character, has had a vision of one killing the other invests everything with an atmosphere of legend as rich as the tales the Englishman collects. Director Emily Reutlinger guides her cast to evoke a reality on an almost bare stage and to create and sustain both the naturalism and romanticism that co-exist in the text. Elspeth Turner as the homebody sister and Tim Barrow as the visitor stand out in a cast that is uniformly excellent.    Gerald Berkowitz

In A Handbag, Darkly   Space on North Bridge   **** 
Sometimes literary classics deserve a bit of ridicule, just to keep them from getting swelled heads, and Robin Johnson has written a parody sequel to Wilde's Importance Of Being Earnest that gives away its love of the original by how cleverly it takes the mickey. I'm going to have to assume you know the original, because explaining would take far too long. Let's just say that the happy pairings-off that seemed to end Wilde's play are coming unravelled here. Gwendolen is too au fait with modern genetics to be happy about marrying the man she's just discovered is her first cousin, while Cecily has decided to give up all this proper young lady stuff and go to Africa to train as a terrorist. Uncomfortable with being sudden brothers, Jack and Algernon have taken out contracts on each other, and it turns out that there's another handbag still sitting in Victoria Station. Things get sillier and sillier, the echoes and parodies of Wilde are all spot-on, and everyone onstage seems to be having as much fun as we, with special praise to Will Naameh, who plays two very different servants in different households, frequently at the same time. 
 Gerald Berkowitz

The Intervention   Assembly Rooms   ****
His friends and family gather to face thirty-something washout Zac with their concern about his alcoholism, but Zac confounds their plans by freely admitting that he's a drunk but putting the blame on each of them in turn for sins of commission, omission or denial.  Dave Florez's play surprises us at the start by being more satirical comedy than drama, finding humour in the group's nervousness before the confrontation, their awkwardness at having to make their prepared little speeches, and their confusion when the critical eye is turned back against them. It then moves a bit uneasily into drama as the various crimes and failures are exposed without allowing any of the characters redeeming transformations or reconciliations. There are a few loose ends in Florez's script, with neither the father's encroaching dementia nor the amiable but dimwitted friend really absorbed into the play, but the only real flaw is the noticeable grinding of gears as the tone shifts from comic to serious. The Intervention fully justifies the core belief of the Comedians Theatre Company (founded in 2006 after some Edinburgh Fringe comedy veterans were cast in a serious drama and discovered how much they enjoyed stretching their muscles) that dramatic acting is within the scope of most stand-up comics and that those accustomed to holding a stage on their own can suppress their comic egos and cooperate in the service of a play. As Zac, Phil Nichol demonstrates as he has in past productions a boiling intensity that conveys a sense both of outward-directed danger and inward-directed torment. Jan Ravens and James Carroll Jordan are frightening in a different way as the parents whose unwavering conviction of their own rectitude makes them true monsters, while Ann Bryson garners some sympathy as a loving aunt who is the nearest thing to an innocent in the play. Aisling Bea as the not-too-faithful girlfriend and Michael Malarkey as the professional interventionist nicely capture the uneasiness of figures who realise just a little too late that they've bitten off more than they can chew, while Waen Shepherd is droll as the friend who's probably been out of his depth most of his life. Except for not quite managing that shift in tone, Maggie Inchley's direction and her guidance of the actors in their portrayals are faultless. 
 Gerald Berkowitz

Irreconcilable Differences   Gryphon   **** 
There has been an automobile crash and a man and woman, seemingly unharmed, stand before us. They gradually realise that they're in a kind of limbo while doctors are working on their damaged bodies elsewhere, that only one of them is going to survive, and that somehow it is we, the audience, who will decide. The core of Alan Flanagan's drama, then, is the desperate attempt by each to convince us to vote (as we will at the end, by dropping tokens on either tray of a set of scales) for one or the other. (This means, incidentally, that the final moments of the play will differ at each performance.) They're a divorced couple, and spend as much time and energy badmouthing each other as in making the positive case for themselves – she was repeatedly unfaithful, he is a weakling unworthy of fidelity. Directed by the playwright, Laura Kelly and Killian Sheridan capture the desperation and accumulated anger of both – she more openly passionate, he more seething – while never losing our sympathy, whichever one we ultimately choose. This is a play that will hold you for its full hour and that you'll think and talk about afterwards, especially if you and your companions split your votes.  Gerald Berkowitz


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John Peel's Shed, by John Osborne    Underbelly   **     (reviewed at a previous Festival)
No, this is not a lost play by the author of Look Back In Anger, but a low-key chat by the author of a book on 1990s radio, who got hooked when he won a competition for a box of records from DJ John Peel's private collection. In what feels like an elaboration of a book promotion tour talk, this John Osborne plays a few excerpts from obscure bands like a punk rock Boyzone tribute act, but mainly recounts favourite anecdotes from his favourite Radio One shows – a remembered joke, a funny call-in to Tommy Boyd, an intriguing piece of music introduced by Peel – and reminds us that a perhaps false sense of community can be created by listening to the same familiar radio voices every day. Osborne's initial contempt for the current Radio One is then tempered by the realisation that today's fans may be experiencing the same connection. There is a trainspotting quality to this topic, and it will no doubt be of far more interest to those who share Osborne's nostalgia, while others may see little more than a nerdy but amiable enough guy wittering on a bit sadly about his harmless little obsession. Gerald Berkowitz

Joyced!    Assembly    *****  
Donal O'Kelly has written a salute to James Joyce that is not a simple imitation of Ulysses but an exuberant celebration of language fully in the Joycean mode, and Katie O'Kelly delivers it with high energy and absolute clarity that leave you on a contact high. On the convincing premise that much of what happened to Jimmy Joyce in the opening months of 1904 found its way into his conscious and unconscious preparation for writing Ulysses, playwright and actress walk us through his days in much the same way Joyce would follow Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom. His strained relations with his father, his winning a bronze medal in a singing contest, his encounters with Alfred Hunter and other real-life people who would be transmuted into Ulysses characters, and his meeting and falling in love with his Molly Bloom, his future wife Nora, are all recounted in a rush of narrative that revels as much in the sheer joy of speaking the delicious words as in telling the story. You don't have to know Ulysses to follow this, though spotting the occasional signpost or verbal echo is part of the fun. You just have to love language as much as Joyce and the O'Kellys clearly do.   Gerald Berkowitz

Kemble's Riot    Pleasance Dome   ***
Adrian Bunting's play attempts to combine different styles of acting, different time periods and different modes of theatre into an immersive experience that has the audience participating in the event being dramatised. The result can either be guilty fun or just one combination too many. In 1809 actor-manager John Philip Kemble raised ticket prices at Covent Garden Theatre by sixpence and audiences rioted in protest. Bunting has Kemble and his sister Sarah Siddons onstage when a modern heckler planted in the audience tries to whip half the audience into very modern booing and football anthems while another plant leads the other half in hushing him. Kemble and Siddons act in a high nineteenth-century style, even in private conversation, while the hecklers act like real audience members and use modern colloquial language. Children's-theatre-style participation mixes with adult history lesson. The audience must participate and then just watch and then participate again as the fourth wall goes up and down a half-dozen times. Those who enjoy the participation and don't mind the anachronisms and clashes of style can have fun, while those who would rather not have to stand up, shout insults or sing football anthems might find the whole thing rather annoying. 
 Gerald Berkowitz

Kit and McConnel    Edinburgh Academy   ****
After thirty years, Kit and The Widow are no more, Kit Hesketh-Harvey and Richard Sisson going their separate ways, but Kit has teamed up with old friend James McConnel and it is business as usual, delivering the familiar brand of genteel satire through song. With James at the piano, Kit sings witty original songs about politics – the prospect of Scottish independence, and why Lib Dems have the most colourful sex lives – and more personal issues, like the challenge of being a neatnik married to a slob. Recycling is skewered in a song about the Refuse KGB, there's a sea chanty for Somali pirates, and we're told about Granny's shock when she googled unwisely. As always there are a couple of serious songs, a threnody for a painful love affair and a salute to a friend killed in Afghanistan, but for the most part the hour is light, easy to take, and exactly what Kit's loyal audience of what he calls the Edinbourgeoisie come for. 
  Gerald Berkowitz

Krapp's Last Tape    Assembly Rooms    *
Tom Owen has the makings of an interesting Krapp. His voice grates, wavers, growls according to mood, while his contained physicality contrasts favourably with the more stripped-down Krapps of recent years. Admittedly a tendency to cartoonish mannerisms removes some of the sting in the bitterness that ironically fuels the cantankerous birthday boy’s will to survive, but Owen ably rises to the challenge of getting under the skin of this complex comic foil for Beckett’s sense of the absurd. And here this review must be halted as regards interpretation. The blame for which falls not on Owen but firmly on director Fiona Baddeley who has left this production disastrously and irresponsibly undermined. “Nothing to say!” Krapp bemoans and indeed for most of the performance the hapless actor was left dangling like a lemon as his tape-recorder wheezed out the taped dialogue at an inaudible volume. No back-up CD on the PA. No Plan B. Fairly fatal in a play where most of the dialogue comes from a designated tape-recorder. Add to that insane sightlines. Stage left, the desk piled with boxes. Owen sits down. Now a full 50 per cent of the audience on the night can’t see him. Which hardly helps gauge Krapp’s silent reactions. Nor indeed when he finally speaks. “Spool…”, one of the most exquisite moments in theatre, lost. Too late, the boxes fall. When he rises to rummage through the drawers, it is with his back to the same half of the hall, adding to the sense of exclusion. Ditto when he slopes offstage for a drink. And was anyone even aware of the fallen banana skin?  This is no fringe hiccup. And so a question: what do you get when a director regally directs from the best seat in the house and takes a dump on the rest of us proles? The privilege of paying for an experience akin to watching a dead sheep thaw in a winter’s field, that’s what. Insulting really, to Owen included, and you can be sure people were just too weary to ask for their money back despite this being one of the quickest Krapps I’ve experienced.  Nick Awde

Leo    Assembly Roxy   ****     (reviewed at a previous Festival)
The solo performer Tobias Wegner enters a room with a blue floor and red wall. A TV camera mounted sideways projects his image on a large screen, so that the red surface looks like the floor and the blue the wall. So when the real Wegner lies on the floor with his feet on the wall, his image seems to be standing up and leaning. Starting from this clever shift in perception, and with the audience able to watch both the man and the screen, Wegner explores the potential for invention and comedy. At first surprised that things fall sideways, the man begins to enjoy defying gravity, sitting without support or dancing on the wall. He draws chairs and other furnishings that are right-side up onscreen, and then sits or climbs on them. The concept does run out of possibilities after a while, and Wegner is forced to abandon it for other, ultimately less satisfying – if only because less surprising – variants such as superimposing animated water on his video image as the standing man pretends to swim. Perhaps better seen in short excerpts, before the novelty wears off, this remains a unique and thoroughly delightful bit of theatrical magic. Gerald Berkowitz

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Letter of Last Resort & Good With People    Traverse   ****
A double bill of one-acts seen separately elsewhere – The Letter Of Last Resort as part of the Tricycle Theatre's Bomb season and Good With People in Oran Mor's lunchtime series – the two plays have little in common beyond having two characters each. David Greig imagines a new Prime Minister in the near future faced with the task of writing the orders to be opened by a Trident captain only after Britain has been destroyed by nuclear attack. Should she order retaliation, knowing it to be criminally pointless, or non-retaliation, knowing that any hint of this will destroy Britain's nuclear deterrent credibility? (Greig leaves the question open, though a brief film sequence added since the Tricycle unwisely seems to answer it.) Belinda Lang gives the PM a strength and depth of character that generate some confidence that if anyone can find the right answer she can, while Simon Chandler plays the civil servant partly enjoying making the politician squirm. David Harrower's play is not as strong, barely hinting at themes it never fully develops. A young man revisiting his Scottish home town crosses paths with an older woman whose son he once bullied, and recriminations and apologies seem to resonate beyond the specific, each using the other as a surrogate or sounding board for barely defined larger concerns. Blythe Duff and Richard Rankin succeed in conveying a sense of complex emotional subtexts, but not in guiding us to clear understanding of what they are.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Life And Sort Of Death Of Eric Argyle    Pleasance   ****
Eric has just died in an accident and he’s confused. And so he should be. After all he has just found himself in a room with two women with clipboards who are politely but firmly interrogating him. Against the clock he is required to answer questions about events in his life – an invasion of privacy he feels is a little too forward given that he’s still getting used to being dead. In a comedy that is as heart-warming as it is heart-breaking, Eric faces a celestial triage of his life, gleaned from the book he wrote page by page over 15 years, discovered after his death stuffed into 5,000-odd stamped and sealed envelopes. Experienced through multi-levelled narratives, he revisits scenes from his past and reviews the rights and wrongs of his actions and the first love he still cherishes. As Eric, Dave McEntegart is at the centre of a tight, sensitive young ensemble whose eight members work with precision to fit together the jigsaw of Ross Dungan’s endearing flashback play. Although occasionally failing to project, they work the space onstage well, thanks to Dan Herd’s direction, to winningly recreate the gallery of characters who feature over Eric’s 54 years on earth. Meanwhile, Robert Kearn’s folky tunes add an extra dimension to this magical production. Nick Awde

Love All    Assembly    ****
As Cheery Wild’s equally cheery narrators will explain in greater detail, the first Wimbledon was almost won by an Irishman whose hangover lost him the title and whose bad habits ended him up in a bizarre murder amid the casinos of Monte Carlo. A fascinating story in itself but Aideen Wylde and Tadhg Hickey offer a lot more in this tongue-in-cheek melodrama about Victorian dark derrings-do. Set against Deirdre O'Dwyer’s versatile set and amed with a string of likely and unlikely props, the duo launch into their story via an engaging range of genres. With their sporting whites and gut-strung racquets, they cheekily recreate the matches that take Vere St Ledger Goold from Ireland to his historic final in London, before detailing his inevitable descent into drink and ruin. As his star fades, he meets Marie Violet Giordin, dressmaker to royalty, great borrower of money and twice widowed under suspcious circumstances, a fatal match in every way... Meanwhile our narrators vainly attempt to conceal from the audience an increasing tension in creative differences that threatens to upend everything – he wants to follow the script, she wants to push the theatrical envelope as the sotto voce asides turn to a full-out spat. Can they ever kiss and make up? Devised by Wylde, Hickey and director Donal Gallagher, this is an inventive production that works on more than one level, blending as it does modern-style narration with the limelight drama of classic musical hall and silent movies.  Nick Awde

Love Child    Gilded Balloon   ***
Joanna Murray Smith has written a drama of love and loss that is distinguished by the performances of Anna Cheney and particularly Chrissie Page, who have brought their production over from the play’s home in Australia. They are a mother and daughter who have never met.  Anna (Miss Page) had a baby at 17 after a brief shipboard romance and gave up the little girl for adoption. Having forgotten her daughter, she is forced to confront her neglect a generation later when Billie appears out of the blue. The pair are really chalk and cheese. Billie (Miss Cheney) is a famous, blonde soap star with the looks and intellect to match the clich.  Her mother reads Germaine Greer and enjoys a single, divorced life exercising her mind as a film editor on TV nature shows. When they meet, fireworks are sparked off as each refuses to understand the other. There is a late twist in the tail that feels neither original nor worthy of the subject matter.  Philip Fisher

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

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Reviews - Edinburgh Festival - 2012