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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 another page and M-Z here.

Scroll down this page for our review of  Macbeth-Who Is That Bloodied Man?, The Madness of King Lear, The Makropulos Case,  A Man For All Times, Marple Murder And Me, Maurice's Jubilee,  Mayday Mayday, Meine Faire Dame, Mess,

Midnight At The Boar's Head, Mies Julie, Miss Havisham's Expectations, Mon Droit, Monkey Bars, Monstrous Acts, Morning, Mr Braithwaite Has A New Boy, Mr Carmen, My Elevator Days, My Sister,

Newland, Night Of The Big Wind, NOLA, Oh The Humanity, Oliver Reed, On The Harmful Effects of Tobacco, A One-Man Hamlet, Othello The Remix, Oxford Revue,

People Show 121, Pierrepoint, Punch and Judy, Rainbow, Repertory Theatre, Rod Is God, Shakespeare For Breakfast, Shakespeare's Queens, The Shit, Shopping Centre, The Silencer, Six And A Tanner, A Soldier's Song, Soldiers' Wives,

Some Small Love Story, Statements After An Arrest Under The Immorality Act, The Static, A Strange Wild Song, Street Cries, Strong Arm, The Submarine Show, Sulle Labbra Tue Dolcissime, 
Swamp Juice,

The Table, Tea With The Old Queen, Tenderpits, Thin Ice, Thinking Of You, This Way Up, Mark Thomas, Thread, Translunar Paradise, Treasure Island, The Trench, The Two Most Perfect Things, 2008 Macbeth,

Visiting Time, Waiting For Stanley, The Wheelchair On My Face, Wild West End, Winston On The Run, Woza Albert, XXXO

Go to first A-L Page

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

The Madness of King Lear   C Venue   ***
A fantasia on themes from Shakespeare, this two-performer piece combines text, mime, dance and music to evoke the mental and emotional journey of King Lear. Dramaturg/director Ira Seidendstein imagines the dead Lear compulsively reliving the events of his tragedy as if searching for where things went wrong. In practice this requires actor Leofric Kingsford-Smith to play a cut-and-paste version of Shakespeare's text, more-or-less in the right order, sometimes taking both sides in a conversation, sometimes playing the other person, with Seidendstein as the Fool playing everyone else and sometimes Lear. The heavy editing of the text helps create a dreamlike atmosphere supporting non-realistic acting with a strong oriental flavour, with Kibuki-like formality alternating with more fluid movement. (Japanese actress-dancer Shakti originally played Seidendstein's role and clearly contributed significantly to the performing vocabulary.) The result is frequently evocative, particularly of Lear's confusion and pain, but almost as frequently unintentionally comic. The stylised movement and mime sequences, which might carry the show were they its sole style, occasionally come out of nowhere, looking a bit silly and self-indulgent until they can weave their evocative spell. A little more consistency, rather than eclecticism, of style could enable the performers to sustain the tone they strive for. As it is, the hour is more effective in isolated moments than as a whole.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Makropulos Case   Festival Theatre    ****,
“But everybody ends up dying!” laments Emilia Marty as the penny drops for those gathered around her deathbed in Opera North’s enthralling, slick version of Janacek’s 1926 masterpiece. If the man-eating diva is telling the truth then she really is 337 years old – the guinea pig for an elixir of life invented in 1585 – and had she revealed the unlikely fact from the outset, then the tragedies she has brought into their lives would not have transpired. Based on Karel Capek’s comedy play about a legal challenge to an ancient will, Janacek’s bitter-sweet satire laces its weighty themes – immortality and the loss of lust for life – with comic elements such as ribbing aspiring singers, MacGuffin-like secret documents and farce-like incest, plus a string of barbed asides on celebrity and sexuality. Musically, you’ll search hard for motifs in Janacek’s inventive recitative, and he saves the big emotional guns for Emilia’s end as it draws near, the themes bursting through with exquisite soundtrack beauty. Respecting this, director Tom Cairns has gone for understated vocal performances while beefing up the physical acting. A wise decision. As Emilia Marty, Ylva Kihlberg plays up the fading diva powerfully but sensitively and, if not always projecting well, her mellow soprano brings an enviable range of sympathetic hues to this complex protagonist. From a well-matched cast, Paul Nilon gets right under the skin of Albert Gregor, the nerdy challenger to his forbear’s will, Sarah Pring sparkles in the Cleaner’s cameos, while Stephanie Corley, as the plucky love interest Kristina, gives the most consistent performance of the night. It’s not all perfect. Norman Tucker’s Sadler’s Wells translation of Janacek’s Czech libretto is sluggish and captures the cadences of neither language. Meanwhile, under conductor Richard Farnes, this is not the tightest of orchestras you’ll encounter, and it sounds shrill in the Festival Theatre. Luckily, and ironically, this brings a modern looseness that immensely lifts and propels the complex score. Add to that Hildegard Bechtler’s simple but sumptuous 20s set and costumes, and you have a vibrant production to die for. Nick Awde

A Man For All Times   Space at Jury's Inn    ***
First black student at Harvard University, co-founder of the NAACP, profound thinker and speaker on racial issues, W.E.B. DuBois is one of the major figures in black American history, and it is the purpose of Alexa Kelly's monologue play to make him better known. Born in Massachusetts in 1868, DuBois had his first real encounter with racism when he went to college in the South, and time spent in Europe a few years later made it clear to him that what he called 'the veil' under which Negroes lived was a specifically American scourge. Unlike the elder Booker T. Washington, who argued for the advancement of the race through employment in the trades, or the comical demogogue Marcus Garvey, who led a back-to-Africa movement, DuBois took the implicitly elitist position that 'the talented tenth' should be educated to lead the others. Kelly's script notes but glosses over the fact that DuBois gradually lost touch with the American Civil Rights movement and turned toward Communism before spending his last years in Africa. Brian Richardson plays DuBois with dignity and intensity, never hiding the man's touches of snobbery and his delight in the sound of his own voice, though the need to cover the immense amount of material in Kelly's research forces him to rush through narrative and ideas that an audience needs more time to absorb.  Gerald Berkowitz

Marple, Murder And Me   Gilded Balloon    ***
For millions of fans, Miss Marple conjures up the wickedly talented Margaret Rutherford and her string of 60s movies featuring Agatha Christie’s sleuth. But it wasn’t such an obvious match for either of the ladies. As this entertaining solo piece reveals, Christie is not enamoured of the light trademark comedy Rutherford brings to the detective, and yet the writer cannot bring herself to wholly condemn an actress who does not hide her own unease at playing Marple. Christie suspects she is hiding a dark secret and so sets to investigating as only the word’s greatest crime writer can. Off Christie pops to the film set and introduces herself. Over tea and cakes the mystery deepens over why Rutherford refuses to take murder seriously. As Christie probes, Rutherford instead regales us with snapshots of her lengthy career, her devoted hubbie Tuft, and the grasping family and hangers-on who relieve her of every penny she earns. To say any more would be to give things away... Janet Price connects instantly as she effortlessly enters the personas of each of her characters with pleasing physicality and engaging tones. However, as things develop the focus slips somewhat and the characterisations start to blend into each other. Besides, it is not clear why we need the under-utilised character of the narrator (Miss Marple) when the two principals do the job admirably. Undeterred, Philip Meeks’ zippy script keeps the plot ticking under the monologues, spurred by the fact that while the meeting may be imaginary, the revelations are 100 per cent shocking fact. With a good go at tightening Stella Duffy’s occasionally wandering direction plus the addition of another 20 minutes courtesy of Meeks, this deserves to run and run. Nick Awde

Maurice's Jubilee   Pleasance    *****
Nichola McAuliffe has written a sweet, charming, funny and touching little play, and I see no reason why she and her co-stars can't tour with it forever if they so choose. Maurice is a 90 year old man with just a few weeks to live, tended by his wife and his hospice nurse. He is determined to live to the eve of the Queen's Jubilee because sixty years ago, as a young jeweller, he was assigned to guard the crown jewels on the eve of the Coronation. He met the Queen that evening, he insists, and since diamonds were part of their conversation, she promised to come to him for tea sixty years hence. The play consists largely of the two women coping with what they half suspect is a fantasy and are sure will be a disappointment, and without giving anything away I'll just say that things work out in exactly the right way. Julian Glover invests Maurice with a strength and dignity that make us want to believe his story, especially when, in a beautiful extended speech, he describes the meeting that was the one transcendent experience of his life. Sheila Reid makes us appreciate the pain and patience of the wife who has had to live her entire marriage with a rival she cannot compete with or escape, and let's just say that Nichola McAuliffe gets to play two very different roles with equal skill and sensitivity. Maurice's Jubilee delivers laughs, tears and warmth in equal measure, and if it is old-fashioned and doesn't advance the art form a millimetre, that is exactly the kind of entertainment many audiences want and rarely encounter done this well.   Gerald Berkowitz

Mayday Mayday   Pleasance ****

As it is subtitled 'A True Story Told By The Man Who Fell', you won't be too surprised to learn that this is the tale of a man who lived in a Cornish fishing village, got drunk one night, fell, and broke his neck. He didn't die, though he might have, but was rescued and taken to a special hospital unit when he underwent lengthy procedures to prevent paralysis. This doesn’t spoil the tale, because that’s basically all that happens. Blimey, but how Tristan Aturrock spins it out is a masterpiece of storytelling that takes you unawares, given visual oomph by his gestures and quaintly throwaway props. Admittedly, setting the scene is a little awkward – the spiralling gesticulations indicating the fateful, winding sea-steps that lead to his home are dangerously Legz Akimbo, for example. But things soon get into their stride, and we’re away on a harrowing yet unexpectedly magical journey. With Katy Carmichael’s tight direction ensuring a perfect match in pacing of voice and movement, Aturrock embellishes even the most ordinary of things with a surreal beauty, such as making his last mobile call to his wife, being moved by the ambulance crew, the treatment options presented to him by the specialist. Even the NHS achieves a fairy godmother-like aura – you’ll never see Casualty in the same way again. Through Aturrock’s subtle repetition, building descriptions up like ripples, these ordinary things take on added perspective as our perceptions slightly alter around them. This is a remarkable piece of work that becomes relevant to all without diminishing the pleasure of that journey. Unusually, Aturrock offers neither a feelgood appeal nor a wallow in human tragedy. Instead we are invited to revel in the everyday drama of everyday life. Admittedly not the drama of something that happens to most of us...but it could. Nick Awde

Meine Faire Dame   Lowland Hall      ****
Ignore the obscure half-page summary in the programme and discard all prior knowledge of Shaw or Lerner & Loewe. It won’t help one whit. Rather than deconstruct Pygmalion/My Fair Lady, director-with-a-mission Christoph Marthaler has simply used the play/musical as a launchpad for a comic experience that, whether it grabs your laughter muscles or not, is guaranteed to leave you leaving with an opinion. This wizard cast clearly had immense fun devising the show with Marthaler. Garbed in dorky late 70s clothing, they work their way across Anna Viebrock’s impressively dingy language lab, flanked by a Hammond organ, manned by Frankenstein’s monster (Mihai Grigoriu), and a grand piano, keyed by an even scarier kappelmeister (Bendix Dethleffsen). A cantankerous consonantal TEFL teacher (Graham F Valentine) shuffles on and puts his beheadphoned students in the booths through their phonetic paces. Songs trigger slapstick forays from the near balletic dialogue – all in English or German: a failed audition of Silent Night (Karl-Heinz Brandt and the platinum-voiced Toar Augestad), Wham’s Last Christmas, staccato vocalese, sinister karaoke (Carina Braunschmidt) – and every time the charlady (Nikola Weisse) opens her mouth the other ingrates vanish in fear. The first language lesson is reprised in German, with Wagner’s Parsifal crooned by Michael von der Heide. And then, when you’ve almost given up waiting, in burst snippets of hits from the real My Fair Lady, charged with new meaning (precisely what, I have no idea obviously). Vaguely identifiable themes include the change in semantics of words across the different spectrums of language, the Professor Higgins-Eliza Doolittle complex played out across the various combinations and ages of the lab couples, the interplay of space (= movement) and time (= music), and there is music, well, for music’s wonderful sake. What you’re observing – and, crucially, hearing – are strands that coexist and are probably only significant because they contribute to one vision. You are forced to listen and watch in equal measure – but be warned, although there are beginnings, middles and ends, it might be distracting to piece them all together. Welcome then to the sport of Extreme Lecoq, hitting you at levels that the kids today coming out of Paris can only dream of. And wickedly funny with it. Nick Awde

Mess   Traverse      *****
This is a sweet, funny, upbeat comedy about anorexia, and the more unlikely that sounds to you, the more you are likely to come under its happy and healing spell. It doesn't deny the seriousness of the illness, but understands it with warm charity. It doesn't underestimate the difficulty of recovery, but celebrates every small step forward while forgiving every relapse. It is inventive and imaginative theatre that says more about the subject than any documentary could. And it is immensely entertaining from start to finish. Writer-actress Caroline Horton knows the subject and she also knows theatre. Supported ably by Hannah Boyde and Seiriol Davies, and directed inventively and sensitively by Alex Swift, she plays Josephine, a young woman who chooses to control her weight because it is the only thing she can control in an unpredictable life, and who recovers only by taking the risk of giving up control and learning to function in a disordered world. Horton is an actress of immense charm and energy, who blazes all her character's feelings out of her eyes but also shows us that there's a strong intelligence in there as well, someone who is not so much the victim as the master, who we can believe will fight her way back to health. And as the playwright-actress finds ways to say all this through comedy, director Swift and designer Flammetta Horvat find strikingly evocative ways of presenting Josephine's journey visually, from symbolising her anorexia by a Rapunzel-like tower in which she hides from the world's impurities to the total mess that is made of the stage at the end to celebrate her recovery. Very much a must-see.  Gerald Berkowitz

Midnight At The Boar's Head   Zoo ***

Shakespeare's local was The Boar's Head in London, and what better way to celebrate it than to imagine it filled with larger-than-life characters who have walked straight out of the plays into their creator's boozer? Courtesy of Fine Chisel the ensuing mayhem is great fun and you even get your own beer – plus, since you're also imagined to be in the pub, you're unlikely to escape some of the loopy audience participation. Falstaff predictably looms large, and he ropes in his colourful cronies from the Henrys and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Other plays that contribute, often unexpectedly, to the colourful barlife include As You Like It, The Tempest, Hamlet and even Macbeth. This brings in pleasing combinations not only of Elizabethan bawdiness but also intrigues of love and politics. Wonderfully, the lyrics of the songs are Shakespeare’s too, given extra energy by melodies from across the spectrum, all performed acoustically, often with mass harmonies. There is a nice element of modern life to this all – they all seem to be texting on mobiles for example, including Falstaff – and this convincingly adds to the reality of the characters and the society Shakespeare was writing for, no different at all from us really. The interleaving of the texts is cleverly executed, meaning that the piece rests on its own merits in terms of structure and dramatic effect – indeed, it would be as powerful if performed from the distance of a traditional stage. The ensemble work the room skilfully, often scattered to its every corner, and juggling different line-ups as they sing and play tight acoustic songs. What lets things down is an almost uniform lack of enunciation, particularly the lead players – if you can’t deliver the words clearly then you’re not delivering the plot. And this is especially fatal if you’re doing folk-based music or Shakespeare. Nick Awde


Mies Julie   Assembly Hall   ****
Yael Farber's South African set adaptation of Strindberg adds both predictable and surprising resonances to the classic of class and sexuality. In the original, thrill-hunting heiress Julie has a night of passion with her father's footman, but their fantasies of running off are curtailed by his inability to break the instinctive habit of servitude. Making Julie white and John black, even in post-apartheid Africa, adds obvious racial tensions but also what might loosely be called Marxist ones, as John is very much aware that his family has at least as much right to this piece of land as Julie's, and there is a strong element of revenge and violence in his sexual passion. His reluctance to leave has more to do with the ancestors buried here and his obligation to them than to any habit of servant thinking. And of course Julie's passion for him is tinged by the thrill of the taboo and even the myth of black sexuality. It is certainly true that director Farber and her two leads Bongile Mantsai and Hilda Cronje charge the play with an intense sexuality throughout, making this much more openly a play about the conflict between passion and rationality than the original, but also one encapsulating in the encounter of one man and one woman much of South Africa's history. As intense a theatrical experience as you are likely to encounter, perhaps uncomfortably so, but one you would regret missing.   Gerald Berkowitz

Miss Havisham's Expectations   Gilded Balloon   *****
She spent her adult life in her faded wedding dress, shut away with a rotting cake for company. So you’d be forgiven for thinking the world’s most famous jilted bride is as mad as a hatter but, as this inspired solo show reveals, the reality is that Miss Havisham is a highly empowered individual, perfectly in control of not being in control and reasonably content with it, absurd as this may seem. Havisham is so iconic that Linda Marlowe’s wedding rags and ghostly make-up instantly place her right at the centre of Great Expectations, as Di Sherlock’s provocative script embarks on a whistle-stop tour around Charles Dickens and his world as seen through his creation’s critical eagle eyes and equally razor-sharp wit. She relishes listing the writer’s foibles and quirks, as if he were the husband the character never had. Via multi-layered scenarios, she rifles through the literary and real-life galleries of Dickens’ world – his love life, his villains, his ego – in the process building up a no-holds barred yet sympathetic portrait of her own life. We finally understand why and how she seeks redemption, becoming less of a victim, in adopted orphan daughter Estella and surrogate son Pip. As director, Sherlock keeps tight reins on this complex piece and cannily exploits every drop of Marlowe’s versatility, veering from full-out in-yer-face to the most restrained of pinprick emotion. The result is that rare thing: a virtuoso performance that stays 100 per cent committed to the material, ensuring you think as much as you are entertained. Indeed, it is almost unsettling to witness such elevated material relayed with such physical comedy, evoking constant roars of laughter from the audience. With the odd in-joke and Britishism expunged, this hi-energy production should have no problem in travelling internationally as a compelling cultural ambassador for Team GB Drama. Nick Awde

Mon Droit   Pleasance   ***
Inspired by a true story, Mike McShane has written and stars in a play attempting to understand a mentally disturbed person from the inside. He plays an American office worker obsessed with the Queen of England. Therapy and a cocktail of medications keep the voices in his head at bay but, as he explains, so tantalisingly just out of reach as to be even more alluring, and he finally snaps. He flies to London where he is sure secret agents await to bring him to the Queen while others, perhaps sent by Prince Philip, are out to get him. What he actually meets are a homeless student and a high-priced whore, leading to tragicomic misunderstandings on all sides and the further immersion into his fantasy world. As writer and actor McShane treads a delicate line between pathos and comedy, not always landing on the right side, while Suki Webster provides solid support as Everyone Else. McShane has said this version is the first step toward a longer play and/or a radio version, and it is best appreciated as a work in progress, with a strong subject and structure but more thought needed about the tone and effect he wants.  Gerald Berkowitz

Monkey Bars   Traverse   ***
I’ll try to tread carefully here... Chris Goode’s verbatim play is one of the most anticipated productions of this year’s fringe and, let me assure you, his audience will not be disappointed. It will elict as much quiet introspection as laughter as Goode takes us deep into the world of children, relayed by adults in deliberately adult scenarios. Using material culled from 11 hours of interviews with 70-odd children by dialogue artist Karl James about life, the universe and everything, a string of dialogues, long and short, solo and group, are enacted before us. The actors speak chunks of direct children’s speech without lapsing too far from their grown-up tones, chatting in suits over glasses of white wine, grilling a candidate from a panel table, sitting in a therapy session. At times a true adult voice joins them in the presence of the dialogue artist. This method deliberately steers clear of ‘truth from the mouth of babes’ or ‘children say the funniest things’ territory, although doubletakes abound and the clever juxtapositions are guaranteed to get the audience’s brains humming. And there lies the source of my unease. Occasional flashes of brilliance do not equate to insight. More so than any other genre, verbatim needs a strongly defined context – but here there is no frame beyond the staging itself, there is no binding narrative, no revelatory thrust. This is best exemplified by the fact that no emphasis is placed on the background, origin or even age of the evidently typical kids, fair enough but then highly specific vignettes of extremely cloistered fundamentalist Muslim kids, a tiny minority in this densely populated country, are chucked into the otherwise homogeneous mix. Such an abrupt contrast naturally provokes the desired reaction – and on the night the audience lapped it up – but in the absence of any clear rationale, the imbalance is for effect only and hence irresponsible. Of course it is still early days for this type of production and it will need a good couple of weeks before it beds in. It is therefore not surprisingly that the six-strong cast come across as not being wholly comfortable with the exercise, although each does have a moment where things suddenly click – interestingly, mostly when the interrogating adult is removed from the group. Nevertheless, it is hard to see how this play can strive for any relevance beyond mere wordplay, a fact that has consequences for actors trying to do their job properly - and for the age limits of its intended audience. Nick Awde

Monstrous Acts   C Venue   ***
This is a love story with a difference, set as it is in a prison in 15th-century France. Nobleman Gilles de Laval is incarcerated with lowly Sebastian Richet. Both are condemned to be executed – the former, by his own admission, because he deserves to, and the other because he is a victim of circumstance. But their fatal date with destiny is delayed by administrative muddling, allowing a bond to grow that might otherwise never have been, one that changes their lives – what little is left. An absorbing, at times uncomfortable, prelude of movement details the rituals of the cell they share yet eke out separate existences. Meals, ablutions, slopping out. Night brings nightmares, masturbation and rape. When they finally speak, it is like a sudden ray of light into their cyclical darkness, and the gritted-teeth violence turns itself inside-out. Kevin Dee turns in a solid performance as the charismatic Gilles, a real-life disgraced national hero from French history. What is not conveyed, however, is the satanic evil that Gilles believes made him commit his unspeakable crimes – rather, Dee creates a portrait of very real, human selfishness. Mathew Gelsumini convinces as the mentally and physically tortured Sebastian, yet his well-played sensuality threatens to mask the vulnerability and intelligence of a man who stoically accepts his lot in life. No matter, as this is an impressive brace of performances in a demanding work which – directed by director Steven Dawson from his own script – lays out an intriguing range of styles to explore themes of retribution, redemption and love. Meanwhile, a thoughtful soundtrack of piano and strings choreographs the moods throughout. The result is a compelling work that brings controversy to the fore yet by its visual poetry renders it acceptable to us all.  Nick Awde

Morning   Traverse   ****
As bleak and nihilistic a play as the darkest pessimist could ask for, Simon Stephens' short drama, created in workshops with young theatre companies of London's Lyric Hammersmith and Basel's Junges Theater, sees today's young people as completely lacking in any morality or any of the intellectual or emotional history that could have created a morality. At its centre is seventeen-year-old Stephanie, totally without a moral sense and driven only by the need for instant gratification of every passing whim. She steals from her brother, abuses her dying mother, manipulates her friends and eventually commits a shocking crime – in every case just because that's what occurred to her to do at that particular moment and in every case without any real awareness of what has been done. Her friends are much the same, if perhaps a bit less so, all functioning without any sense of history or consequence, living in an eternal present of a few seconds' duration. The play's stark vision is reflected in production. In Filtre Theatre style, the stage is bare except for scattered props, and a sound technician is visible as he manipulates amplified voices, music and sound effects to support the sense of a naked landscape without any signs of civilization, and director Sean Holmes has led his actors to (or not pushed them past) wooden and affectless acting that is oddly appropriate to their disconnected characters. The final words of the play are 'There is only terror. There is no hope', and the only thing that keeps Morning from convincing us of that is the realisation that we have heard much of this before, from previous generations of teenagers who somehow survived.  Gerald Berkowitz

Mr. Braithwaite Has A New Boy   C Venue   ****
For all the comedy swashing around Edinburgh, it’s rare in the theatre section to find yourself laughing out loud the length of a show. Out Cast’s bawdy oddball outing does the trick, but be warned – if an elderly lady collapsing with narcoleptic shock each time a rent boy yells out “cock!” doesn’t grab your fancy, probably best to give this a miss. The rest of you lie back and revel in the tale of the genteel yet lonely Mr Braithwaite who unexpectedly finds the company he craves for his old age in rough-diamond Johnny, the rent boy hired for afternoon romps. Aghast, mate Maurice and neighbour Edna rush to stymy Mr Braithwaite’s decision to adopt his rampant pay-as-you-go plaything. Johnny is equally appalled at his prospective parent’s obsession with his beloved pussy. Iain Murton deftly captures the vulnerability of the ageing queen caught up in the conservatism of his suburban world, although rushed delivery robs him of most of his oneliners. Nathan Butler niftily juggles the other key players in Braithwaite’s empty life: scatty Edna, catty Maurice and ratty brother-in-law lawyer Edmund. Lubricating them all is Mathew Gelsumini’s Johnny, a bundle of primeval sexuality who unsettles all with an almost pert Ortonesque physicality that gives the comic energy balls. This is a dream cast for director Steven Dawson who exploits every drop of their talent while maintaining an impressive, near farcical pace throughout his sparkling script. Developed into a fully-fledged play with a little more - dare I suggest - issues, this comedy can easily rise to its fullest potential. Nick Awde

Mr Carmen   Assembly Roxy   ***
For the 'Only In Edinburgh' file, this curiosity from the Engineering Theatre AKHE of St. Petersburg is a fantasia on themes from Carmen – or, rather, on the single theme of Jose's obsession with Carmen, which is made theatrical in a variety of ways, only some of them coherent. Two impressively bearded men looking like Russian priests surround the stage with an electrically-operated pulley system on which they hang a male and a female figure, who will then spend the entire hour in pursuit of (or escape from) each other as they go around and around. Meanwhile, one of the two men will find various ways to write Carmen's name – on the floor, on a screen, on a wine bottle, in smoke – only to have the other step in to replace it with Jose. Those, as I said, are the most comprehensible moments in an hour filled with what one assumes is a symbolism we just haven't been granted the keys to. We get the Jose-chasing-Carmen idea, but most of what we can follow would work equally well with the names Jack and Jill or Darby and Joan or Posh and Becks. At least one star just for being bizarre in an only-in-Edinburgh way.  Gerald Berkowitz

My Elevator Days   Pleasance   *****
Even if you feel you’re not the best of company, your identity evolves from the way you communicate with the rest of the world. Luckily, as our elderly narrator explains in this powerful yet gently comic monologue by Bengt Ahlfors, you don’t always need a human - or even animate - listener. Remember Shirley Valentine’s sympathetic kitchen wall? And so our narrator attempts to itemise what has been an ordinary existence for him in Helsinki – however, as he admits, one with extraordinary rituals related to communication. Handily, he is aware of the audience and pauses the proceedings from time to time to comment on the tricky mechanics of delivering scripted dialogue. In this Svenska Teatern production, old age is pertinent only in that one starts to run out of people to talk to, and with this distraction out of the way, slowly and humorously – almost absurdly – the dots of the man’s life start to join up: his annual devotions to Grace Kelly, his much-missed deaf dog Kafka and the imaginary mutt that replaces him, a brief relationship with the post-person through his letterbox, a failed yet ultimately successful visit to a massage parlour, gatecrashing weddings and even funerals. And yes, he does chat to the elevator of the title, but not as someone in his dotage, instead as a young boy seeking affirmation and security. Although the political implications of being born into the Swedish-speaking minority in politically touchy 1920s Finland will not click for most, we are all surely bound to identify somehow with the strange isolation of not being able to make oneself understood in one’s own country - and the bullying that this inevitably attracts, even in the safe haven of his beloved lift. Alexander West diffuses his character like a finely-aged malt whisky, both dry and mellow, his affable irony drawing us into the story. Sensitively guided by Ahlfors’ direction, he takes us on a deeper journey through what on the surface appears just another monologue about growing old. West skilfully picks his way through the motifs of the play – captured here in Henning Koch’s flowing, spot-on translation – and runs with them to deliver not a mawkish meander through the meaning of life but a celebration of individuality – and with more than a few chuckles of recognition along the way. Nick Awde

My Sister   Fiddler's Elbow   ****
The two sisters of Jessica Phillippi's play could hardly have had a worse childhood, with first a drunken and sexually abusive father and then, after his death, a depressed, drunken and promiscuous mother who brought men home to further abuse them. There can be no surprise that they are driven to save themselves even through the means of a dreadful criminal act. Unfortunately there can also be no surprise to what is meant to be a twist ending but is telegraphed within the first few minutes, leaving audiences in little suspense except for when it will finally be spelled out. There are strengths to the play and production along the way, however. Jessica Phillippi and Amy Conway ably and sensitively portray the two girls at each stage in the process of growing up, becoming damaged, resorting to the only escape they can think of, and coping as they can with the after-effects. Director Deborah Hannan deserves credit for guiding them to these characterisations and also for making inventive use of a playing space carved out of two connecting rooms to create stage pictures that evoke the mirroring theme of the play.  Gerald Berkowitz

Newland   Space@Surgeon's Hall   ***
Unjustly framed and gunned out of a Wild West town, sheriff Harvey holes out in nearby Newland whose utopian-minded inhabitants offer a welcome with open arms. The hapless lawman’s working-girl love interest Rose joins him and the community blossoms until the bad guys ride up to threaten the idyll. Faced with betrayal and murder, will Harvey ever regain his badge? Will Newland lose its innocence? Will Rose get her man? There is a healthy level of tongue in cheek humour that complements the buzzing sung-through parts slickly delivered by this 11-strong cast, headed by Marc Borthwick as good guy Harvey, Helen Peters as good-time gal Rose Cassidy, and Sarah York as all-round good girl Rebecca Bunting. A little distracting is the tendency of the snappy songs to change in style not for role but for mood, and so the characters frequently blur, not helped by the Identikit checked shirts and haircuts. Stand-out numbers include the strong ensemble opener Starts Right Here, which is justly reprised as the finale, Borthwick, Peters and York share overlapping duets in the heartfelt Simple Moments, and the snappy Whiskey Drinker is a slick novelty number from Rebecca’s brothers (Gregory Hazel and Paul Rich) along with a line-up of saloon girls. Nikki Laurence’s choreographed routines make the best of the stage but are rarely deployed, which is shame, while the three-piece band is supremely tight, following even the slightlest of nuances onstage. MD Grant Martin has to be one of the most sensitive yet powerful keyboard players around. There is an impressive wealth of good ideas, but ultimately too many characters and plot twists vying for our attention. As the next step in development, co-writers Thomas Giron-Towers (who also directs) and Martin need to streamline – is this a love triangle or tale of vengeance, character-based comedy or social satire? And the title, that simply has to go. Throw in the experience of an Edinburgh run too, and this has all the makings of a great tourable production. Nick Awde

The Night Of The Big Wind   Underbelly   **
Little Couliflower, young puppeteers from Canterbury, impressed with their first show last year and return to Edinburgh with a new story to tell through music, mime and puppetry. It's a very small story, perhaps too slight to sustain an hour, and offers too little opportunity for the evocative puppetry that is the company's strength. A small boy, appearing as both a six inch doll and a three foot puppet, waits at home each day as his fisherman father goes out with the other boats. One day a storm comes up and father doesn't return, at least not right away. And that's about it. The puppet boy does little but stand and wait, and a puppet goose is underused and never integrated into the story. Everything else – establishing the fishing village, playing the father, miming the men's rituals, providing musical accompaniment and depicting the storm – is done by the humans, not especially inventively or evocatively. So when the puppets take centre stage, nothing much happens and very slowly. When they're not there, the stage is frantic with activity, communicating too little. The company are to be commended for wanting to move beyond puppetry, but turning away from their greatest strength proves a mistake.   Gerald Berkowitz

NOLA   Underbelly   **
NOLA (the title is local shorthand for New Orleans Louisiana) is a verbatim theatre piece based on interviews with people affected by BP's massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010. The problem is that you now know exactly what the show is like, and there can be no surprises and little likelihood of effectiveness. Inevitably we will hear from someone who escaped from the exploding oil rig, the remarkably unbitter father of a victim, a bird-scrubbing naturalist, a journalist enjoying the big story, a BP executive seeing it all as a PR problem, some fishermen whose livelihood is destroyed, a couple of ordinary-housewives-turned-activists, and so on. All will say exactly what we expect them to say and heard them saying on TV at the time – BP and the other companies were criminally negligent, nobody cares about the little guy, promised compensation still hasn't come, and the long-term effects are incalculable. The goal of a play like this is to break through our boredom with yesterday's news and make us care, but the format of talking heads, looking and sounding exactly like yesterday's news, defeats that end. A hard-working cast of four play several roles each, accomplish the instant characterisations and get the variety of American accents remarkably accurate, but to little avail.    Gerald Berkowitz

Oh The Humanity  St. Stephen's   ***
This collection of five short plays by American Will Eno is like a taster plate that never quite satisfies the appetite. There is obvious talent in each sketch, but little in the way of resolution – it's as if Eno had the idea for a play in each case but not the play itself. A certain similarity of theme and structure also limits the hour. In each piece someone facing a specific (if emotionally charged) issue wanders off, comically or pathetically, into broad but not especially deep philosophical speculation. A coach's explanation to reporters for a losing season turns into a wail of general despair, a couple recording dating service videos can't seem to focus on themselves or find much in themselves to describe, an airline spokeswoman reporting on a crash looks for comfort in the thought that we're all going to die anyway, and so on. Appearing either singly or in various combinations, the three actors – Tony Bell, Lucy Ellinson and John Kirk – have been directed by Erica Whyman to play each character with the brittleness of nervousness, a quality that sometimes works against any warmth or sympathy.   Gerald Berkowitz

Oliver Reed: Wild Thing   Gilded balloon    ***
Rob Crouch as Oliver Reed enters in a monkey suit, and a recurring theme of the monologue that follows (after quickly removing the fur) is that the public wants some of their celebrities to be animals and wildmen. And while Reed didn't find playing that role on and off screen particularly difficult or foreign to his instincts, he still was aware that it was a role and that his living depended to a large extent to his maintaining it. So, he insists, some of the bizarre and drunken behaviour on TV chat shows that has become part of his legend was pure (well, almost pure) play-acting. Crouch's Reed doesn't deny being a heavy drinker and hell-raiser, and he happily recounts some of his misadventures, but insists that he was far more in control of his actions and his image than may have seemed possible. Crouch makes Reed quite an amiable drunk, with the charm of the totally unapologetic, so we share his pleasure in reporting that he is descended, through several levels of bastardy, from both Peter The Great and Herbert Beerbohm Tree, and respect the respect he shows to the performers (and carousers) he considers worthy, from Robert Mitchum to Keith Moon. Never really transcending the conventions of this sort of impersonation-personification, the fast-moving hour succeeds in making us feel we know the man a little better. 
 Gerald Berkowitz

On The Harmful Effects of Tobacco & Can Cause Death   C Aquila  ****
Chekhov's delightful monologue On The Harmful Effects Of Tobacco, by a man ordered by his gorgon wife to speak on the topic but more inclined to grumble impotently about her, is partnered with a new play, Can Cause Death, by Alison Carr, the wife's turn to speak about her husband. Together they make for a gently entertaining forty minutes, generating a pretty constant stream of chuckles if few large laughs. And in this production the humour is compounded by having Gordon Russell play both roles, transforming him from mousy Dickensian nobody, visibly flinching even at the mention of his wife, to imposing and thoroughly self-confident pillar of female rectitude. With the basic joke of the Chekhov piece being the total absence of anything happy in the poor guy's life, Carr's response is to have the wife, speaking after his death, offer a correction – it wasn't so much that she held him down as that he was incapable of rising. Inevitably the second monologue is a little more serious than the first, as Carr paints the picture of the spinster who married the only man to show any interest, mistaking his lack of accomplishment for future promise, and who is genuinely surprised to discover that she'll miss him. Slight and fragile, both pieces offer the gentle delights of light humour and even lighter pathos. As directed by Hugh Keegan, Gordon Russell gives two performances of seemingly effortless comic mastery.    Gerald Berkowitz

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A One-Man Hamlet   C Aquila  ***
Surprisingly, it's not a particularly new idea, and Edinburgh has seen solo versions of Hamlet in several past years. Andrew Cowie's version, here performed by Will Bligh, is happily free of over-interpretation or imposed concept – this is simply Hamlet's experience of the scenes he's in. That means, for example, that he and we know nothing of Ophelia's madness or Claudius's plotting with Laertes, or essentially most of Act IV, and one of the few places Cowie's editing hurts the play's coherence is that the climactic duel scene and deaths come without sufficient preparation. Elsewhere though, by following Hamlet from 'this too too solid flesh' to 'The rest is silence', Cowie takes us through the whirlwind of events that the Prince must cope with and gives us a sense of his experience that full productions might inadvertently disguise. It still helps to know the play coming in, to fill in the gaps, but if nothing else this is a more than adequate plot summary. As directed by Lauren Pfitzner, Will Bligh recites more than acts, sounding at times like a schoolteacher reading aloud to the class, being slow and clear but not getting far beneath the surface. Pedants might be bothered by his frequent mangling of the metre – he determinedly resists pronouncing the -ed at the ends of verbs even when the metre demands them – and even more by a pattern of oddly placed and illogical long pauses in the middle of sentences. Others might not notice them and be happy with this easy-to-take introduction to Shakespeare.  Gerald Berkowitz

Othello - The Remix   Pleasance      *****
The Chicago-based crew calling themselves The Q Brothers took Edinburgh by storm a few years back with a hip-hop version of The Comedy Of Errors that did full justice to Shakespeare while being high-energy rap and just plain fun. They followed up with a rap Taming Of The Shrew, and now take on – and meet – their biggest challenge, translating a Shakespearean tragedy into rap and still remaining true to the original. They take big liberties, turning the characters into a modern rap crew with a vindictive supporting performer setting out to destroy the star, and if there is a single line of Shakespeare intact, I missed it. But it works, and gloriously. The cleverness and eloquence of the rap rhymes, if not on Shakespeare's level, come out of the same love of language, and the performers, even when roaming or bouncing around the stage, are able to suggest character depth and passions of tragic complexity. Add to that the energy and inventiveness of the choreography and the cleverness of the transfer into a modern situation, and this isn't just an easy introduction to Shakespeare. It's an exciting, thoroughly entertaining independent theatrical achievement on its own, and a hell of a lot of fun.  Gerald Berkowitz

Oxford Revue   Underbelly      **
In the implicit competition of the blues, it is Cambridge who win hands down this year, as Oxford's entry has too many sketches that are dead from the start and too many others that can't find anything fresh in overused ideas. The voice-over thoughts of the cast about each other has been done to death, and you'd have to find something fresher in the actor's audition (as Durham do in their revue) to make it work. The middle-class-blues song and game with bizarre rules had their day as comic ideas decades ago, the groom's speech and restaurant sketch never had a hope, and the robot sketch isn't funny the first time and doesn't deserve a reprieve. Only the practical joke and penguin bits have any real touch of originality or comic freshness. All in all, this was probably not the year to include a sketch whose key line is 'I've seen it all before'.   Gerald Berkowitz

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People Show 121: The Detective Show   Assembly      ****
The People Show has been going for almost fifty years, each instalment a company-created exploration of the boundaries of theatre, either scripted, partly improvised or totally random. Number 121, The Detective Show, is one of their most accessible and entertaining, and an excellent introduction. At its core, it's a variant of a Fringe staple, the kind of comedy in which a small cast (here, three actors) play all the roles, their difficulty keeping up with the changes in costume and accent being part of the fun. Of course, merely telling a mock detective story – who killed the tour guide, the out-of-work actor or the obsessed MI5 man, and what does Hitler's semen have to do with it? - isn't enough for them, so they keep breaking the fourth wall to comment on the genre and the conventions they're playing around with, while also coping with some dissension in the acting ranks. So an Italian waiter with a terrible accent will have to explain why the cop he also plays isn't in this scene, the actor who gets to deliver the bridging narrative will have to defend his turf against a jealous rival, we will occasionally not be sure whether we're watching an actor, an actor playing an actor or an actor playing an actor playing a cop – and it is all very clever, very funny and even a bit instructive about the illusion-creating power of theatre.    Gerald Berkowitz

Pierrepoint   Sweet Grassmarket   ***
Peter Harrison's monologue presents Albert Pierrepoint, Britain's last professional hangman, on the occasion of his final job, the execution of Timothy Evans in 1950. He presents Pierrepoint as a consummate professional, proud of being in a long family line of executioners, and even more proud of his expertise, explaining in not-too-gory detail how he does his job efficiently and humanely. As he recalls some of the more than 400 'commissions' of his twenty-five year career, noticeably not remembering any of his 'clients' by name, we get the sense of a man who has carefully compartmentalised this piece of his life – his primary occupation was as a publican – so as not to let it affect him emotionally. His mask slips only briefly, as when he bemoans his wife's embarrassment at being the subject of gossip and gawking, until the final moments, which go too soft too quickly in giving him sudden regrets and fears. Martin Oldfield plays Pierrepoint with buttoned-down calm bordering on severity, as if disdaining anyone whose personal and professional standards are not as high as his, and Tom Blake adds to the atmosphere with the constant presence of the mostly silent Evans. 
   Gerald Berkowitz

Punch And Judy   Pleasance   ***
Athough already established in our isles many centuries ago, Mr Punch and his rowdy acquaintances finally came of age around the beginning of the 19th century, spawned from that unique British fashion of fusing foreign art with our own popular culture - in this particular puppet’s case, the product is ribald, violent social satire. And that’s certainly what whacks you entertainingly over the head in Tea Break Theatre’s show with a difference. The difference lies in using real-life actors in place of puppets, using a script created by Katharine Armitage from original transcripts of those historical performances. Putting a living face to the slapstick brings out Punch’s sinister side and highlights the Hogarthian world through which, like the bastard son of Bill Sykes, Del Boy and Chopper, he crashes his violent but shockingly comic way. Be they sympathetic or nightmarish, characters such as Judy, the Crocodile, the Devil, the Banker and even the Baby take on more concentrated and complex personas, the result being a provocative and often surreal romp through the hard knocks of everyday life. “That’s the way to do it!” takes on an entirely new dark meaning as Punch strolls away from yet another act of assault and battery or even murder. So not for your average audience of kids by the seaside then. Giles Roberts plays Punch, with Harrie Hayes and Ryan Wichert juggling 14 other roles between them, and the trio visibly relish hamming it up. However, given their hard work, the significant script, and Oliver Wilis’ adaptable showbooth that provides an evocative backdrop and ease of quick costume changes, things are let down by unimaginative costumes and a lack of physicality all round. Additionally, while as a writer Armitage’s vision on paper impresses, as a director she gives life to very little of its promise.   Nick Awde

Rainbow   Zoo Southside   ****
This new play by a graduate of the Royal Court Young Writer Programme shows Emily Jenkins to be a real playwright, able to create believable character and incident and perhaps only a bit short of confidence on dialogue and structure. It's built on three interlocking monologues by two men and a boy, each only peripherally aware of the others as minor figures in his story and not at all aware of their monologues. A hard man tells of being sent by his boss to collect on a debt or do harm to the debtor, and how it all went wrong in a blackly comic way, resulting in him abandoning a burned-out car in a field. Coincidentally (and yes, there are a lot of coincidences here) that field is the go-to quiet place of the debtor's high-autistic teenage son, who retreats there after one too many episodes of bullying and can't cope with its desecration. Meanwhile, the boy's teacher, not knowing any of this, has fallen into a sexual relationship with the boy's sister. Emily Jenkins skilfully weaves these stories together, with the added complication that they're out of sync, the thug's present tense being a day or two earlier than the others, and draws a picture, variously comic, tragic and touching, of three people trying to change their lives and unwittingly getting in their own and each other's way. 
   Gerald Berkowitz

Repertory Theatre   C ECA   *****
Every once in a while you stumble across a piece of theatre that has everyone talking for the very reason you can't talk about it because that would require a spoiler alert. Clearly, from a critic's point of view, a challenge. Let's just say that one of the recurring themes of this year's festival is deconstructing theatre, and this clever comedy sort of falls into that category although it is much, much more, being a virtuoso showcase for a play where writer, director and performers set themselves a breathtakingly high benchmark in creating a complete narrative from that very deconstruction. So, a challenge for them too. As for plot, well, an aspiring young playwright (Iftach Jeffrey Ophir) sits nervously in the office of the artistic director (Erez Drigues) of a repertory theatre. We discover he is the son of the theatre’s greatest actor, a mysteriously deceased Shakespearian. Is the playwright seeking affirmation from his father’s ghost, the artistic director demands to know. Is the play any good, the playwright retorts. They parry, counter-parry and just when you think there’s a palpable hit, things swerve left field, the action increasingly disjointed – unnervingly aphasic/apraxic – and you wonder whether to laugh or gasp in shock at the passive aggression and gaps in communication. Then the play abruptly surges into a whole different gear, the energy racks up and all you can do is sit back and enjoy the rollercoaster ride. You will appreciate by curtain call the immense technique and focus required to do this, aided by Ophir and Drigues’ seamless joint direction and Ophir’s sharp translation. It is interesting to note that playwright Eldad Cohen has previously worked in creating children’s material – his laying out a bedrock of simple motifs is key to keeping his characters convincingly rooted and so keeps things on track, meaning that actors and audience alike end up in the same mad place at the frenetic finale. Nick Awde

Rod Is God   Pleasance Dome   ***
An amiable and unpretentious comedy, Rod Is God should serve the purpose of an audition for television writing and acting gigs for all concerned. Rod's life is going nowhere when his slacker buddy comes up with the money-making plan of starting a religious cult. Soon they have enlisted an enthusiastic PR man, produced TV adverts, wangled Z-list celebrity endorsements and printed up the T-shirts. Of course Rod himself can never appear in public, to keep up the mystique, and they should plough some of the early takings into genuine good works, to prime the pump. The cult spreads and money pours in, but none of it seems to reach Rod, and where are all the sacrificial virgins? Lee Griffiths' play works as satire of religion and manufactured celebrity and as farce of little guys trying to keep up with what they've started. But the targets are easy prey and the farce never frantic enough, keeping Rod Is God from rising above the level of mild and forgettable sitcom – which is to say, proof that all involved are perfect for television.
   Gerald Berkowitz

Shakespeare for Breakfast   C Venue   ****
Two decades ago an Edinburgh Fringe company with an empty morning slot put together a Shakespeare pastiche, luring audiences in with free coffee and croissants. Now a Fringe staple and new every year, the tradition of irreverent humour, general silliness, and croissants continues, with parodies of single plays generally alternating with inventive ways of throwing characters from several plays together. This year's entry, while not one of the best, still has its share of laughs as Romeo and Juliet is brought into the Facebook and Twitter era, with a Geordie Romeo and a Juliet from the world of upper class twits and fashionistas. If some of the anachronistic gags are too predictable and the pattern of beginning a Shakespearean line correctly only to lapse into current slang wears thin too quickly, other bits of invention, like the wedding ceremony made up entirely of love song samples, are clever, and generally enough of the jokes and topical references score to make the hour go by entertainingly. Appropriately enough, the lovers themselves, as played by Adam Pendrich and Kirsty Marie Ayres, are fairly colourless straight men, with much of the laughter generated by Katy Withers' chavette Benviola and Emily Jane Kerr's Ab Fab Nurse. And croissants.  Gerald Berkowitz

Shakespeare's Queens: She-Wolves and Serpents   C Venue     ****
Here is a simple but effective conceit: historic rivals Queen Elizabeth I (Kath Perry) and Mary, Queen of Scots (Rachel Ferris) vie with each other in claims to greatness and justify their cases by calling on similar queens from the plays of their contemporary William Shakespeare (Patrick Trumper). Cannily, this is no slideshow gallery since it plays up the regal bitching and the shameless way the cousins attempt to manipulate the hapless playwright into their camps. There are quite a few laughs as Perry and Ferris stomp off behind screens to appear a second later as quite a different queen, an impressive feat when you consider that they are in full period costume. We meet the likes of Goneril and Regan, Titania, Cleopatra and, worryingly for the playwright, Liz and Mary’s own family in the shape of Katherine and Anne Boleyn. Meanwhile Trumper dutifully transforms himself into male protagonists such as Lear, Hamlet, and Oberon. The actors are consistent in giving strongly defined portrayals – athough Ferris inexplicably loses projection when she steps out of her Mary persona – and as the scenes whizz by, they lose none of their power. Part of the success in Perry’s clever adaptation is to keep you guessing as to which character will pop up next thanks to Elizabeth and Mary’s relentless one-up(wo)manship – and plucked from a surprisingly long list of strong royal females. Director Roz Riley marshals it all together with a discipline that manages not to lose the element of fun, giving the actors a firm platform to bounce off and show off their Shakespearean chops. As a touring production, this has much to offer, as educational as it is entertaining – plus, of course, exquisitely played. Nick Awde

The Shit   Summerhall   ****
A naked woman sits on a platform and howls her anguish into a microphone. Her mother didn't love her, she can't get work as an actress, her thighs are too big and SHE WANTS TO BE A STAR NOW! Presenting Cristian Ceresoli's text, Silvia Gallerano certainly gives a courageous, hold-nothing-back performance, naked not only in body but in baring her character's not especially attractive soul, and even willing to make herself ugly as the woman's torment distorts her face and body. An extensive press kit argues that this is all a metaphor for Italy's national inferiority complex and a Marxist indictment of the historical forces that generated it, but you can't prove it by me. The most political the performance gets (before a curtain call in which the actress covers her nakedness with an Italian flag) is an extended section that looks beyond the character's lust for glory to condemn the cultural sexism that assumes all women to be fair game for abuse and takes it for granted that they will have to trade sexual favours for career advancement in any field. This is not a pleasant show, and therefore not for everyone. It is meant to be ugly and disturbing. But as an example of unrelenting in-your-face theatre is is unmatched.  
 Gerald Berkowitz

Shopping Centre   Gilded Balloon     ***
Locked in a dingy storeroom, Jim is talking to a body slumped in the corner. His apologetic tones soon turn to confiding, and we understand that this is no ordinary space. This is Jim’s sole point of reference, refuge from the unwelcome advances of his family, friends and society. And it seems to have done the trick – until today. To Jim’s comically understated chagrin, there’s a riot going in the mall 100 feet above him. Indeed, the shopping centre, his lodestone of security and source of retail therapy, is under siege – and so is his life. The mood gets ever more claustrophobic and yet - the inverted Hunchback of Notre-Dame setting aside - what becomes unsettling is Jim’s ordinariness. He’s your average bloke even when you know he gets off with his wife as David Cameron waffles on the TV, or that his dismay coems not from the rioting per se but the looting and its presumed sexual depravity – all imparted with deadpan delivery. Written and performed by Matthew Osbourn, who gave us last year’s Cul-de-Sac, this is the sort of loner monologue we have seen before, but the difference here is that normality is kept on the tightest of reins and no reality check is required. Guided by Maggie Inchley’s pinpoint direction, Osbourn avoids hammy emotional explosions and so creates a wholly convincing portrayal of this nerdy psychopath. Hard to tell whether there is a moral to all this – people rioting doesn’t necessarily make a social commentary and the very ending is a lazy political cop-out – but as a portrait of the horrors brewing in the human condition it does the trick. Nick Awde

The Silencer   Pleasance   **
Belonging to the genre of monologue in which the speaker, intending to tell one story and project one image of himself, gradually and inexorably exposes a darker truth, Rachel Neuburger's script begins with a fiftyish New Yorker speaking confidently of a successful life and a beautiful love affair, only to have layer after layer of conscious lies and self-delusions peel away the more he talks, until he is revealed to be a loser just this side (or that side) of dangerously psychotic. The intended effect should be a mix of pathos, disdain and horror, but this disappointing production delivers far too little. Clearly underrehearsed, the usually reliable David Calvito, seen a week into his run, repeatedly stumbles over his lines, losing control of the pace and rhythms of the monologue and the revelations, so that what should be a continual and snowballing process of character exposure too often plays like a random string of unrelated episodes. Blame for this uncharacteristic failure must be shared with director Michael Sexton, and while the piece may improve as the run continues, there is little excuse for it not to be in better shape from the start.  
 Gerald Berkowitz

Six And A Tanner   Assembly Rooms      ***
In this solo show, which a programme note tells us is based directly on events in playwright Rony Bridges' life, David Hayman plays a middle aged Glaswegian at the coffin of the physically and mentally abusive father who never loved him and who he could not love in return, and given that much information you probably couldn't write the whole play yourself, but very little in it will surprise you. The speaker's childhood was full of brutality of one sort or another, from his father's beatings to his mother's ignorant home remedies and a sadistic teacher's abuse. But there's actually a process of diminishing returns with each new remembered episode. Once we hear of the beatings, not visiting his son in hospital after an accident seems anticlimactic, and every sin of mother or teacher actually takes away from the father's unique evil. The one unexpected and complicating quality to the monologue is the sense that the adult son really would like to be able to mourn his father, and feels something lacking in himself that he cannot. David Hayman ably manoeuvres his way through the man's jumble of emotions, particularly capturing all the moments of black humour, and there is some pleasure in seeing the somewhat familiar territory revisited with such skill. 
   Gerald Berkowitz

A Soldier's Song   Assembly       ****
Of all the post-conflict shows knocking about in recent years, former soldier Ken Lukowiak's stage version of his book about the 1982 Falklands War is one of the most direct you'll encounter. More an ill-equipped campaign that shored up the crumbling Thatcher government, the war revived the long-dormant UK military machine, since then kept almost continuously busy in any number of US-sparked conflicts across the world. So there’s a lot more than just battlefield dispatches in Ken Lukowiak’s telling of how, as a paratrooper, he fought in the key points of action on the islands, including the Battle of Goose Green where his battalion commander won a VC but lost his life, like a lot of other comrades now buried there. Remarkably, there is neither bitterness nor claims of glory here – instead Lukowiak tells it like it is, the grim routine of preparing to go into battle, working out probabilities of who will die as the mortars start raining down, whether to take out that machine-gun post or risk staying put. Clearly there is a fine line between gallantry and insanity. Even moments such as rescue by a comically surreal Welsh sniper are tempered by the hazards of going in to clean up the enemy trenches. The loathing within the ranks at the Colonel Blimp-like commanders helicoptered in is neutralised by squaddies kicking wounded Argentinians, the act of killing dulled by rage over stolen chocolates. Unexpected songs help us understand the flood of emotions racing through a soldier’s mind, feelings that cannot switch off under fire, laced with childhood flashbacks and detacted observations on the ironies of warfare. In directing his own adaptation, Guy Masterson sets out a simple, uncluttered course for Lukowiak, an untrained performer, while successfully having him range the stage with confidence. Far more, however, could be done with the uneven soundscape which makes a clear statement but remains muddy. Nick Awde


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Soldiers' Wives   Assembly Roxy      ***
In this programme of interlocking monologues by Sarah Daniels, Catherine Shipton plays five women living on an army base in England while their husbands are on duty in Afghanistan. The major's wife is not naturally gregarious but considers it the duty of her station to watch over the others. The beautician wife serves as gossip central for the community. The wife reduced to doing the housework and laundry of the others hides her cell phone so they won't text her and discover she can't read. One husband came home seriously wounded, and his wife must face a future very different from the one they had planned. There's a brutal husband in the mix, and a closet gay husband, and a secret drinker among the women. And therein lies the weakness in Daniels' script – except for the wounded man, there is almost nothing in these characters or stories that is specific to, or enlightening about, military wives. They could be neighbours on the same civilian street or members of the same church or characters in a TV soap or any other fictional excuse for considering them together. Catherine Shipton's performance is not as precise as it needs to be, as she doesn't always distinguish clearly among the several voices or keep us clear on who's married to who.  Gerald Berkowitz

Some Small Love Story   C Venue      ***
Two love stories told by two couples in word and song, Alexander Wright’s deceptively simple musical is an emotive, magical journey where quite different narratives gradually connect – limned by the resonance that palpably ripples through the audience. Boldly using word and song, with no set and with minimal movement, perceptions of love are explored as one couple looks back in time to another generation while the other enthuses first hand about their future even though it will be cut short. Gradually they reveal how they all share an acceptance of what life throws at us yet share the belief that without love there is no hope. Contrast very much features in this engaging Hartshorn-Hook reprise of last year’s more enveloping outing. David Kristopher Brown and Veronica Hare are outgoing and super cheery as the young couple riven by her death after an accident. Serena Manteghi and James McEwan are all restraint and poigance as they document the more subtle effects of loss that death inflicts on an older couple. With melodies supplied by Gavin Whitworth, the catchy emotive songs range from tantalising snippets to full torch songs - I’ll See You Flying remains one of the most delicately powerful, if brief, closers around. The contrast of the couples is a little too marked, however, and director Noreen Kershaw struggles to ensure that the stories and characters mesh as they should – things only really come together in the tantalisingly few ensemble songs. This robs us of much focus in the final moments when, motet-like, emotions converge in a celebration of life. Still, this remains a talented cast who never once step out of character, their enviable concentration helping propel the story as they stand and speak to the audience throughout, a process vividly enlivened by Joe Griffiths’ sparse piano. Nick Awde

StatementsAfter An Arrest Under The Immorality Act   Assembly Hall   ****

No matter how powerful the original message, after 40 years a play can take on new resonances as its audience changes. This is an important challenge for Athol Fugard's deep-felt response to the Immorality Act – legislation in apartheid-era South Africa that banned sexual relations between the races. Certainly there is a cry here for homosexuals still criminalised across the world, but what remains shockingly relevant today is the depiction of the institutionalised evil that lurks in the middle classes, the good burghers who stand for law and order and who vote our governments in. And so we find ourselves in a dimly lit bedroom, occupied by two lovers in post-coital chat. Comfortable with their nudity, theirs is a familiarity that comes from those who have known each other for a long time. It is the intimacy and gentle humour of their exchanges, rather than their lack of clothing, that makes you feel you are intruding. However, since she is white and he is black, their union makes them complicit in a crime that strikes at the very heart of their nation. Though they may be equals in the confines of her bedroom where congress is consensual – be it sexual, social or intellectual – beyond it they are anything but. As he stays longer than he intends, the conversation also overstays its welcome and sparks an argument over the world outside and the unanswerable question of where to take their love. Their story is slight, the consequences are immense as it becomes only a question of time before the simple act of falling in love becomes a mantrap for them. “Nothing we can do except hurt each other!” he cries, as the air becomes electric with the danger of discovery, and the shadows playing across their bodies turn to somewhere for them to hide. In terms of technique Bo Petersen and Malefane Mosuhli appear oddly mismatched – she physical, he cerebral – and at first this distracts. But soon one’s internal vision adjusts and their focused performances complement each other as the show warms up, becoming a strength when the play itself hits different styles. Meanwhile Jeroen Kranenburg’s harsh clipped white accents cut though their secret world as he expertly runs through a gallery of “concerned” neighbours and officials. What the performers bring to the fore is Fugard's own style where the intimate language of the couple is filled with polemic and declamatory cadences, while their speeches to the audience are naturalistic and flowing – one would expect the reverse. This creates an awkwardness in the production that hinders a deeper level of physical chemistry between the lovers. Nevertheless, aided by Guy De Lancey’s design, this strong ensemble gives director Kim Kerfoot the freedom to achieve a total vision usually reserved for much larger and longer productions, and his juxtaposition of sensuality and grim reality converges the humanity and issues convincingly. Nick Awde

The Static   Underbelly   ****
A teenage boy with ADHD meets a girl with telekinetic powers and she teaches him how to channel all his nervous energy, resulting in a Carrie-style conflagration. Or maybe there are mundane and realistic explanations for everything and the kids are just too overwhelmed by what is surely a metaphor for that first frightening rush of sexual hormones. Davey Anderson's play beautifully and convincingly captures how very very confusing and frightening adolescence can be, and is also the occasion for as dynamically directed and beautifully performed an ensemble production as you are likely to see. Brian Vernel as the lad literally bounces off the walls with uncontrollable energy, while Samantha Foley gives the girl a more inward-turning intensity, and Pauline Lockhart and Nick Rhys play more and less sympathetic teachers. But all four contribute to the smooth-flowing and never-resting feeling of the production, m
ost evocatively in a couple of sequences beautifully choreographed by director Neil Bettles – one in which the others, implicitly invisible, move objects around as the boy flexes what he thinks are his psychic powers, and another when all Hell breaks loose in the school. You can enjoy The Static as a highly skilled piece of physical theatre, as a tale of the supernatural and as a touching reminder of that dreadful rite of passage that is puberty.  Gerald Berkowitz

A Strange Wild Song   Bedlam   ****
Inspired by an actual First World War event, the Rhum and Clay company collaboratively create a fable set in the Second War, of a soldier lost in France who comes upon and befriends some children, the last survivors of their village, who make sense of their experience by creating a play army of their own. His photographs of them are found seventy years later and his story recreated for his grandson. The company take the audacious gamble of playing much of this as farce, the children first encountered as slapstick clowns and mimes, and even the modern researchers presented as bumblers. The device doesn't always work, the serious subject and the low comic presentation sometimes clashing, nor is the mime vocabulary always clear – it may take quite a while to realise that these are children. But when it does hit home, as when the soldier gradually understands that play is the children's way of coping with reality and uses it to bond with them, it is quite moving and expressive. Ultimately the production and the company are to be admired more for their ambition and invention than for their only partial accomplishment of their vision, but there is clearly a lot of talent here. 
   Gerald Berkowitz

Street Cries   C Venue   ****
Composer-writer Mitch Fral's song cycle salutes, with open eyes and rueful acceptance, the denizens and direness of the modern urban dystopia. Ten songs in a range of styles introduce us to the experiences of homeless teens and Chelsea girls, impoverished war veterans and princes of the city, working girls and whores. And if some of what they have to say is old news and some of the satirical barbs are aimed at easy targets, still the songs are good, their imagery sharp and evocative, and all the targets deserve what they get. Tying the songs together, at least at the start, is a narrative openly inspired by Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood, as the two performers introduce us to each character as he or she sleeps, a brief dream monologue leading in each case into a self-revelatory song. The device is dropped or gets lost midway through the hour, but the lead-ins to each song remain strong and evocative, capturing each character in a few moments and making the song ring true. The composer-writer himself plays all the male (and a couple of female) characters, with Kelly Craig sharing the narrative job and playing the remaining roles. Both are strong singing actors, any sharp edges to their voices contributing to the dark characterisations and tone.   Gerald Berkowitz

Strong Arm   Underbelly   ****
This monologue written and performed by Finlay Robertson raises the question of whether a good thing can be taken too far. Being named Roland Poland and thus doomed to a childhood of bullying may have led to the boy and adult Roland becoming grossly overweight, but it takes an episode of ridicule as an adult to move him to change things. He joins a gym and is pleased in a couple of years to have lost fat and built muscle, but that pleasure becomes addictive, and soon he is measuring every gramme of protein and carbohydrate he eats, dosing on supplements and aiming for body-building competitions and the elusive high, reputedly better than sex, that only comes with total abuse of the muscles. So the fact that his body is beginning to show alarming symptoms and even the fact that Roland has found a girlfriend for the first time in his life may not be enough to break the spell. Ably directed by Kate Budgen, Robertson portrays Roland as never wavering or doubting his monomania, allowing the dark side of his adventure to come through in what the character reports without understanding the significance of what he's saying. He frequently mimes exercises with persuasive reality, and the fact that Robertson himself is of average build makes his convincing portrayal of both the unhappy fat man and the obsessive mesomorph particularly impressive.
  Gerald Berkowitz

The Submarine Show   C Venue   ****
Ping. Ping! Bloop… Two performers. Wally-like in stripey tops and specs. Submariners. Except there isn’t a submarine. Not to worry. You’ll instantly believe there is one thanks to the antics of Jaron (the not so tall one) and Slater (the tall one). Armed with only movement and vocal SFX, they create a whole magical world of visual humour. Not a gesture or grimace is wasted by our gangly gormless crew as they negotiate the narrow confines of their underwater craft and encounter obstacles at every point. Acrobatics create a periscope, slapstick ensues after disaster strikes, pipes hiss steam, the craft lurches, escape hatches open and up they swim to safety on a tropical island where mosquitos buzz and birds of paradise battle over a surprised but flattered woman in the front row. Glorious mayhem indeed. All the way from California, Penney and Hollander’s response to their audience young and old is total and you leave knowing that no single show is ever the same. It is rare that one sees this form of circus-based physical comedy maintain such a connection with the audience and even rarer to see it sustain a successful through-narrative. The result is a unique showcase that works for every age anywhere in the world, and one ready for development, utilising those circus skills big time, into a longer and more epic version designed to keep the adults of the international festivals enthralled. Nick Awde

Sulle Labbra Tue Dolcissime   Zoo Southside   ***** 
The Italian title translates as ‘On Your Honey Lips’, taking inspiration for its subject from Antonio Pietrangeli's 1965 Io la conoscevo bene (I Know Her Well), a bittersweet film about a country girl who goes to the big city and fails to fit in. This inventive piece from Siena’s Francesca Selva Company documents that loneliness of being in a crowd and the grin-and-bear-it attitude society demands – while Selva’s flowing forms will either engage or infuriate thanks to their refusal to repeat a motif, no matter how catchy. Either way, this is essential viewing. Garbed in bright everyday clothes three women and two men work their way through the social interactions of day and night. The odd number becomes significant when they split into couples, working through each combination but always leaving one out, an imbalance reinforced when they fuse finally into groups without reconciling that sense of exclusion. Ballet, modern, even a flash of hiphop mesh fluidly over a series of discrete but interlinked pieces, the energy is such that every paused dancer, every unfilled space onstage breathes movement. Stand-out is the complex duet set to Antony and the Johnsons’ plaintive Thank You for Your Love, although the later metronome solo is out of context – intentional no doubt but it jars. Magically, the final piece reunites the couples of the beginning yet the dynamic now takes on a different resonance and styles flow into each other. It is a strange point to note about this sort of company, but Selva’s dancers actually act their characters throughout, particularly with their eyes, unfazed by the fact that the narrative is abstract. As a stand-alone work, Giovanni Mezzedimi’s near static video would be tedious, but projected onto the huge backdrop it majestically contrasts with the human rhythms it frames, merged with a lyrical, often strident soundtrack and the show-long falling rain/white noise ostinato. Nick Awde

Swamp Juice   Underbelly   *****     (reviewed at a previous Festival)
Swamp Juice is a rollicking, rapturously imaginative puppetry tour-de-force. Creator and actor Jeff Achtem brings a menagerie of creatures to life with the deft flick of a thumb or poke of a toe, and the audience is treated to a fascinating behind-the-scenes vantage point as we watch the creator, his colorful creatures, and the mesmerizing shadow puppet art they create in concert simultaneously. The plot is straightforward: a meddling villain upsets the balance of nature and learns a lesson about respecting creatures that are different from us. The mischievous man, a perturbed snail, a dancing snake, a pugnacious bird and a toothy sea monster pepper a deliriously delightful romp through a swamp, and then the real magic begins. Playfully challenging every conceivable boundary of puppetry, Mr. Achtem transforms the audience itself into his personal puppeteering brigade as the plot’s main journey bursts beyond the confines of both the shadow world and the stage itself. And we haven’t even gotten to the 3-D glasses finale… Suffice it to say that Swamp Juice is the of the most wildly innovative creations at the Fringe. However, even stripped of all its bells and whistles, the simplest layer of this immensely technically complex show is still funny, charming, relatable characters portrayed with honesty and panache. A must-see for children and adults alike.  Hannah Friedman

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The Table   Pleasance Dome   **     (reviewed at a previous Festival)
The puppetry and other visual theatre of this company is surprisingly rudimentary and unevocative, surpassed in both imagination and technique by several other generically similar Fringe groups. The bulk of the hour is devoted to a two-foot-high doll manipulated by three puppeteers, but the puppet never stands, walks or gestures in a natural way, and even worse, never takes on any personality or reality. It is voiced by one of the puppeteers, Mark Down, and what humour and identity it has comes entirely from the spoken words, so that you may end up looking at Down more than the lifeless figure during the overstretched forty-five minutes it is onstage. A second, shorter segment involves faces and forms moving about in and between three picture frames, to little effect and with some clumsiness, as when the supposedly invisible puppeteers' arms block what we are supposed to be looking at. A final segment creates a kind of living comic book, as a string of drawings are displayed in turn to tell a story; it is mildly entertaining but continued too long and stretched too thin. With no director credited, the company seems seriously in need of someone sitting out front and telling them how frequently their accomplishment does not match their ambition. Gerald Berkowitz

Tea With The Old Queen   C Aquila   ***
There is, of course a pun in the title, as this solo show written and directed by Graham Woolnough presents actor Ian Stark as a fictional version of William Tallon, aka 'Backstairs Billy', personal servant to the late Queen Mother for fifty years and (at least in this incarnation) an old queen himself. Reading from Tallon's supposed diaries, Stark takes us through a year at Clarence House and Balmoral, gleefully reporting on Cherie Blair surreptitiously tormenting the corgis, minor royals being bussed in for token luncheon with the Queen, Princess Margaret being indiscreet, and exactly why some of the camper theatrical knights never got peerages. Loyal to the last, the nearest he comes to dishing some dirt on the Queen Mum is an account of the panic that struck the household when they seemed in danger of running out of gin. The only criticism to be made of Woolnough's writing or Stark's performance is that neither is really nasty enough. Audiences come for bitchiness, and they can take far harsher stuff than is offered here, but even in this gentle form the hour delivers a guilty delight for royalty-lovers and royalty-haters alike.  Gerald Berkowitz

Tenderpits   Underbelly   ****
What with the decidedly un-fringelike pressures of big-gun venue turf wars and the rocketing price of a pint, it is refreshing to see to a show that slickly captures that original, timeless fringe spirit. But where to start? The blue sparkling buttocks perhaps, or maybe the gay “psycho-sex”, then there’s the family upsets, the washing up with Mexican illegals in New York, or the down-and-out-Wally-in-a-nappy alter-ego. A couple of stuffed toys too, who play a significant role as events spiral. These, and more, form parallel strands that Anthony Johnston weaves into the blender of his imagination, serving up a cocktail of fact and fiction, armed with a huge projected backdrop of homefilmed vids and unexpected elements of physical comedy. The journey would appear to be one of self-discovery, plus an element of daft validation linked to his childhood ambition of becoming a wizard. None of this would work… except: (a) The charm factor is set to overdrive – you probably won’t be able to bring yourself to walk out on this man even when he’s gyrating around in nothing but street-soiled incontinence pants. You (may) want to mother him instead. (b) For all the mighty polemics hurled around – immigration, discovery/loss of identity in sex, raised/dashed expectations in life, being a citizen of the town of Tenderpits, Canada – not a jot of this is forced on you. This is life, no more, and in Johnston’s case it just happens to provide a fringe fairy tale for our times instead of a lucrative socially knowing feature in the Huffington Post. (c) It’s slickly done. Onstage mayhem like this cannot be sustained for any period without descending into chaos unless steered by a technically confident practitioner who knows his audience’s limits. So, it’s loopy, it’s thoughtful, and it’s well worth the risk.  Nick Awde

Thin Ice   Pleasance   ****
In an Arctic station in 1940 three scientists, two men and a woman, research their various specialities, confounded by data or research subjects that refuse to validate their theories, tangled emotional relationships and the pressures and interference of political forces, not to mention the weather. Jonathan Young's play reminds us that nature, nations, individuals and even the supernatural rarely act as we would wish them to, and almost never in ways we can order or predict with any assurance, and in parallel raises the question of just what kinds of truth people are willing to kill or die for. A dramatic structure that moves forward and backward in time, withholding key information or encouraging misleading inferences, is generally clear and nicely reflects the theme of disorder. Directed by the playwright, Nick Underwood, Esther McAuley and Calum Witney adeptly manoeuvre the rapid changes in time and place, creating characters of depth and complexity. Thin Ice may attempt to squeeze too much into a single play, but its ambition and even incomplete success are admirable.  
Gerald Berkowitz

Thinking Of You   The Phoenix   ***
Niki Orfanou's edgy scenes from the life of a dysfunctional family make an interesting piece of new writing that often catches you unaware. In avoiding the usual stereotypes of family disintegration, this four-hander looks at the long-term damage to parents and their children that arises from a simple lack of communication. Guided by director Jens Peters and armed with only the barest of staging, the cast convincingly portray each family member with grimy soap opera precision. There’s the mother (Geraldine Brennan), whose mental wandering gets her physically wandering, as if seeking comfort in visibility from her husband’s neglect. And then there’s her husband (Richard Banks), who, in ignoring his family, dashes their hopes along with their words. Attempting to stand up for himself and defend his women, the son (Theo Ancient) looks as if he has a chance of normality, although his sister (Claire Juliette) registers her opposition by simply not speaking, no matter the chatter going on inside her head – and the significance of the title becomes ever more poignant with her isolation. Orfanou’s blurring of dreamy scenarios and stark realities proves a successful combination through overlapping vignettes, past and present, the world outside and inside their heads. Although this is a cast that is unevenly balanced technically speaking, the emotional focus of all impresses, as each creates more than one heart in the mouth moment. Nick Awde

This Way Up    C Venue   ****
It’s a funny old world. The more talent we produce, the more the job opportunities vanish. Well, there’s always the call centre. Which is precisely what the protagonists discover in Antler’s devised comedy, weaving in touching love stories and some unnervingly spot-on characters. Alex (Daniela Pasquini) has just finished art school with honours and now seeks work as an artist. First she moves in with Meg (Louise Trigg), who confusingly invents different personalities when applying for similarly creative posts - and relationships. But the call centre distractingly beckons, and there romantic interests loom for our girls in the shape of laconic Mark (Nasi Voutsas) and gormless Bensy (Richard Perryman). Will plucky Alex fulfil her dream and make it in the art world? Will dizzy Meg find her real identity? Will the guys ever stop kidding around? And will they all escape the clutches of their nerdy managers Suzanne (Jessica Stone) and Wesley (Daniel Ainsworth) Observant and funny, the script bounces along, punctuated by unexpected musical interludes of catchy whimsical narratives, Jonathan Richmond-style, courtesy of Voutsas’ vocals/ukelele and Perryman’s toy organ. Threatening to upstage it all are designer Lucy Attwood’s vari-sized cardboard boxes scattered across the stage that are constantly shuffled by the cast to create an apartment, call centre, stationery cabinet, space ship or musician’s corner. Director Jasmine Woodcock-Stewart and her winning cast make this complex, superbly paced production look effortless, and the play itself is surprisingly hard-hitting under all the whimsy. Nick Awde

Mark Thomas - Bravo Figaro!    Traverse   ***
Not quite theatre and not quite stand-up comedy, and certainly not the sort of political essay-polemic his fans are accustomed to, Mark Thomas's latest show is a guardedly loving salute to his father, a crude, bigoted working-class man who developed an unlikely love of opera, even going so far as frequently joining the toffs at Covent Garden to indulge his enthusiasm. Thomas considers the ironies and contradictions inherent in this story in a monologue that is frequently very funny, as when he runs through a catalogue of 'You know you're middle class when' gags, frequently touching, as when the son who has never had much in common with his father tries to connect to him through music, and sometimes more than a bit exploitative and manipulative, as when he plays recordings of his aged and invalid father to generate an emotional response he may not fully have earned. If that last element doesn't bother you, you may enjoy being moved by the serious moments as much as being entertained by the jokes.  Gerald Berkowitz

Thread   Assembly at St. Mark's   ****
Jules Horne's drama takes us through more than sixty years of a friendship and a marriage, uncovering old secrets and new ambiguities. The play is being performed in a church hall and its opening scene is in such a room, as aged William and Izzy conduct a games night usually hosted by William's ailing wife Joan. We then move backward and forward in time, learning that Izzy and Joan were inseparable friends both before and after Joan's wedding, with that third party in the marriage causing considerable discomfort to William. The fleetingness and uncertainty of memory become significant when we discover what Joan's illness is, as we are left with something that may or may not be true about the friends' relationship back then and may or may not be true about Joan's feelings now. The cast move seamlessly between time periods and between reality and memory, with Claire Dargo (Joan) and Mary Gapinski (Izzy) capturing both the lively young women and their older selves, and Stephen Docherty particularly touching as the devoted husband losing the wife he can't be absolutely sure he ever really had. 
 Gerald Berkowitz

Translunar Paradise  Pleasance Dome      ****
It is hard to believe that mime can be executed much better than the efforts of Theatre Ad Infinitum in this award-winning show. For 75 minutes, Translunar Paradise creator George Mann and Deborah Pugh with an accordionist/vocalist, Kim Heron tell a simple tale in movement and dance with not a word uttered. The story of a loving couple starts at the end, when both are very old, judging by the hand-held facial masks that each wears. The sense of loss that the husband suffers at the loss of his mate is palpable. He is bereft but survives by harking back to happy memories of a long partnership, starting with their meeting, moving through the courting process to marriage, parenthood and old age. Along the way, war intervenes, crippling but not killing the man. The tale is nothing new but the physicality of the performance and haunting music lift Translunar Paradise on to a different level.   Philip Fisher

Treasure Island  C Venue     ***
Thanks to an imaginative use of tea-chests, lamps and halyards, the cast bring to life all the iconic scenes of this adventure classic - the Admiral Benbow Inn, the good ship Hispaniola, the stockade siege, Ben Gunn’s lair. Even when condensed to an hour, Robert Louis Stevenson’s swashbuckler classic still enthrals and even offers comments on morality and the class struggle in amongst the thrills, spills and comradeships lost and won. As the story’s curious cabinboy Jim, Benjamin Darlington has the only fixed role, the rest of the five-strong cast rotating characters with gusto, rushing off into one corner to appear moments later from another in different guise. Dominic Allen is sinister but sympathetic as Long John Silver, keeping company with Max Tyler’s stubborn Captain Smollett, Patrick Fysh’s have-a-go Squire Trelawney and James Wardell’s gung-ho Dr Livesey. Despite the low budget approach, their wash of accents, props and quick change costumes propel the action with great energy, allowing director Joe Hufton to steer with ease the hard-working ensemble on their clear course through Allen’s zippy adaptation. Humour is also thrown into the mix, including self-referential jokes, making this a fun show for older children and adults of all ages. Nick Awde

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The Trench  Pleasance     *****
A total theatre experience of engrossing intensity, The Trench employs acting, mime, music, puppetry, film and even flying to enrich history with the quality of myth and reinvest an old story with the power it has lost through overfamiliarity. In the First World War young men died. We have been told this and made to recognise its tragedy before. But playwright-director Oliver Lansley and Les Enfants Terribles turn the story of a trapped tunneller into the stuff of Greek or Arthurian myth by giving him an encounter with a demon who offers to save him and the beloved wife who died in childbirth if he meets three challenges. These, evocatively acted out through all the tools of performance and theatricality, raise the soldier to the status of knight errant while reminding us of the deep horrors of war through original and evocative symbolism. With Lansley in the central role and the rest of the able cast doubling as characters, chorus, mimes and puppeteers, there is something inventive and evocative happening at every moment. Some might be able to guess the direction this mystical experience is going – it is, after all, of the essence of myth that it be formally structured – but that just enhances the emotional power of this truly original and powerful theatrical event. 
 Gerald Berkowitz

The Two Most Perfect Things  Assembly Roxy     ***     (reviewed in London)
This very modest show – four singers and a pianist – is a salute to Noel Coward and Ivor Novello, friendly rivals in the first half of the Twentieth Century as playwrights, songwriters and performers. Between bits of biography and quotations we hear at least excerpts from more than two dozen songs by each, allowing us to enjoy and perhaps compare and judge them. If you do judge, it is likely that Coward will come out very much ahead. Novello specialised in a sort of lush romantic operetta that was very popular then but hasn't aged well, and too many of his songs sound both alike and rather generic, though his
most famous song, Keep The Home Fires Burning, has undiminished power, and a couple of the others are uncharacteristic enough to be pleasant surprises. Meanwhile, Coward's songs, not all tied to shows, range from the witty (Mad Dogs and Englishmen) to the sentimental (Someday I'll Find You). Of course it's not the primary purpose of the show to judge the composers but to celebrate them, and I fear that the performances don't help a lot. The classically-trained singers have all the vices of opera singers attempting popular music – undifferentiated open vowels, excessive tremolo and general oversinging that in the Novello songs contribute to making them all sound alike and in the Coward do violence to lyrics that need crisp and clear enunciation. (On the other hand, it is a delightful relief to encounter four singers capable of making themselves heard over a single piano without microphones, far too rare an experience these days.) It's a pleasant and harmless hour or so that you can sit and let wash over you without any effort on your part, which may be all you want on a summer morning.  Gerald Berkowitz

2008 Macbeth  Royal Highland Centre     ***
In this Polish production, set in something like the Iraq war, Macbeth is an air force major who leads a commando raid on a mosque, assassinating the enemy leader at his prayers. A burqa-clad woman assures him he'll get a promotion for this, and killing his general Duncan somehow makes him king of a country that sometimes is and sometimes is not Scotland, until another branch of the military conducts a commando raid on him. Clearly Shakespeare doesn't fit too comfortably into director/adaptor Grzegorz Jarzyna's vision of the play. On a massive three-level bunker-like set Lady Macbeth's bedroom doubles as an abattoir, entertainment at the Macbeths' includes an Elvis impersonator, Macduff gets the news of his family's slaughter by Skype, Banquo's ghost walks around in the nude, the doctor is a sadistic shaven-headed woman in a ball gown, and Lady Macbeth's search for cleanliness takes her to the laundromat, where she is killed by a short circuit in one of the washers. Dialogue in Polish is translated back in surtitles, sometimes to Shakespeare's words, sometimes to such infelicities as 'Cut it out. Fate is fate', and a number of strange stagings seem based on misunderstandings of the text, as when Macbeth's 'Ne'er shake thy gory locks at me' results in a ghost with severe palsy. In the midst of this, Cezary Kosinski, his face frequently projected in large close-up, succeeds in suggesting a Macbeth haunted from the start by the sense that his enterprise is doomed, while Aleksandra Konieczna portrays a sensual and sexual Lady Macbeth.   Gerald Berkowitz

Visiting Time  Gilded Balloon     **
Tony Earnshaw's Visiting Time spirals around a few themes, returning to each of them in turn every few minutes but without much development with each reiteration, so that it remains a play without a centre and an episode without a clear purpose. At some point in the recent past Piers slept with Tom's wife, the wife slept with Tom and Tom slept with a whore, and in one direction or the other they all wound up HIV-positive, with Piers in hospital with full-blown and terminal AIDS. Each man has reason to call the other both best friend and worst enemy, much is made of the fact that Piers is a rich and sybaritic while Tom is a socially conscious grammar school boy, and improbably both were aid workers in Africa, so they occasionally interrupt their private quarrels to discuss good works. A gun appears and changes hands a couple of times, and then one of the basic rules of playwriting is violated. There is something about loyalty and betrayal here, and something about class, and something about why people do good works, but the play doesn't settle on any of them long enough or, on its return visits to each topic, explore them further enough to be satisfying. Simon Legge and Chris Westgate frequently look uncomfortable about having to say essentially the same things every ten minutes or so. 
  Gerald Berkowitz

Waiting For Stanley  Assembly Roxy     *****
Deviser-performer Leela Bunce audaciously chooses to tell the serious story of the WW2 home front through unabashed and inventive clowning, and the combination proves both touching and immensely entertaining. Bunce appears in realistic 1945 garb but with a clown's red nose, and through much of what follows she is silent, depicting through mime, dance and puppetry a woman awaiting her husband's return from the war. When he isn't on the expected train she imagines (and acts out) a French seductress holding him or a battle casualty she hasn't been told of. Reassured by a letter, she uses found objects scattered about the stage to help her mime and clown through her days of domestic tasks (trying to bake with rationing limitations), comforting her puppet child in an air raid (opportunity for an audience singalong), and going to work. Each episode is simultaneously funny, sad and theatrically inventive, as when a string of paper dolls represent children being relocated to the country or a grumbling postman delivers each precious letter. A warm, moving, cheering hour, this is a theatrical experience that cleanses your soul and sends you out feeling that life is, all things considered, pretty good. 
   Gerald Berkowitz

The Wheelchair On My Face  Pleasance     ***
Through almost unbelievable neglect by her parents and teachers, Sonya Kelly was not diagnosed as severely nearsighted until the age of seven, when she got her first eyeglasses and her first real discovery of the world around her. With admirable charity, bemused humour and the ability to remember and recreate the feelings of a small child, Kelly tells us in her chatty monologue what life was like both before and after the great transformation. Her family thought her an especially loving child because she climbed into everyone's lap just to get a vague look at them, and her teachers thought her dim because she didn't even know there was a blackboard there, much less writing on it. Cruel children and kind adults feature in her story, which does have a satisfying ending. Though Kelly's experience was extreme it was not unique, and she ultimately may not have much that's new to tell anyone who also wore glasses as a child, though it would take a determined curmudgeon not to choke up a bit when the little girl leaves the oculist and 'It was like objects were shouting.' 
  Gerald Berkowitz

Wild West End  Pleasance Dome     ****
In the tradition of Forbidden Broadway or The Musical of Musicals, this is a combination salute and send-up of West End musicals, using parodies of the songs to satirise themselves. We meet a blocked songwriter who explains in LloydWebberish tones that 'Any Theme Will Do,' and then we're off (Don't ask) to Sparkleton, the land of musical characters, where we encounter a Dorothy sick of lugging that damn dog around ('I'm so over the rainbow'), a Lion King tired of being killed off in the first act and a fey Phantom who would happily trade Christine for Raoul. Soon they're all off to see the Lizard (It's that kind of show), who turns out to be – well, the only person he could be, with problems of his own. If it's not quite laugh-a-minute (It could use some more songs, the best parts), it still is fun throughout. If you love musicals, you'll delight in the clever twists on old favourites. If you hate musicals, you'll enjoy watching them get what they deserve.  Gerald Berkowitz

Winston On The Run  Pleasance      ***
Although billed as a comedy, Freddie Machin's solo show about an episode in Winston Churchill's time as a journalist in the Boer War is played and certainly received by the audience as a straight account, the only touches of humour coming in the hero's inclination to overdramatise both himself and his experience. And even those, like the jingoistic purple prose of his news reports and his overeagerness to indulge in some derring-do, play like accurate depictions of the Boys' Own Adventure spirit that characterised the era. With a shock of ginger hair that makes him look like a cross between Prince Harry and Napoleon Dynamite, Machin finds Churchill hiding out after escaping from a Boer prison and recalling what got him there – having failed in his first attempt at election and somewhat at loose ends, he wangled a newspaper assignment to cover the war and then, stuck in a backwater and eager for adventure, he urged the troops he was accompanying to push forward and got them all captured. Rescue comes, and soon he is parleying his fame toward a successful election to Parliament. As directed by John Walton, Machin captures young Winston's slightly foolish boyish enthusiasm, but if he was reaching for broader comedy than that, the audience's serious and respectful response should tell him that's not the play they're seeing.  
 Gerald Berkowitz

Woza Albert   Assembly Hall     *****
An iconic work in the history of South African drama, this play by Percy Mtwa, Mbongeni Ngema and Barney Simon may have lost some of its immediacy since the end of apartheid, but it remains exciting and entertaining theatre. Two actors, Mncedisi Baldwin Shabangu and Peter Mashingo, play a dozen or more roles each in what begins as a reminder of the daily indignities and dangers black people lived with and then becomes surprisingly celebratory of their indestructible spirit. Rumour spreads through the country that Jesus is returning, and a small boy wonders if the visitor will walk him to school and a beggar hopes this means he'll get to eat like white people. When Jesus does arrive, the unemployed beg him for jobs, workers offer him a Coke and the white government takes him on the VIP tour of Sun City and a Wimpy Bar before deciding he's a threat and throwing him in prison. Much of the fun comes in the instant characterisations of the characters – a barber shooting the breeze with a customer, a tailor threading a needle with intense concentration – and the sly rebelliousness, as all the white characters are identified by clown noses. And even all these decades later it is impossible not to be moved by the final scene in which Jesus visits a cemetery and, in the title words, calls upon South Africa's black heroes and martyrs to arise. 
 Gerald Berkowitz

XXXO   Pleasance    ****
Take two laptops, two projectors. Add two young women. Throw in dollops of silver screen classics old and new. Mix in the infinite universe of the world's imagination we call YouTube. Sit back and digest what transpires.. Nathalie Marie Verbeke and Charlotte De Bruyne idly click on a medley of clips, lingering long enough to allow the emotions of the performances contained therein to flow out and take grip. To a soundtrack of tumbling techno chords, the duo work in parallel – yet as one in their concentration – to mimic, ape, faithfully recreate the misery, shock, disbelief and loss in the string of often conflicting videos projected above them. In unison with Braveheart, Medea and Bambi, they make themselves fall silent with sadness, cry with loss, weep with grief, go numb with sorrow. Watching the scenes from classic films modern and old, Hollywood and European, it also amazes how many catchphrases have entered our lives. This bizarre karaoke segues into equally classic clips from YouTube (kittens, a protestor’s death in Iran), snippets of plays and speeches. Funny and shocking, sometimes at the same time, the girls’ search is relentless as if trying to outdo each other – for emotional kicks or plain bedroom boredom, who knows? They capture their own created images onscreen, deleting or saving according to the intensity captured. The realisation swiftly dawns that they are browsing through emotions on their desktops as they would flip through clothes on a rack. The repetition has a hypnotic motet effect, yet jars like a hitherto undiscovered Simpsons outtake from Koyaanisqatsi, understandable given that Verbeke and De Bruyne’s devised piece springs from Belgium’s Ontroerend Goed, which made gently sophisticated confrontational theatre its forte. The debate for many others, understandably, will be whether this is an art installation or a piece of theatre. Either way, it is a well-crafted alternative take on our increasingly sanitised modern world, as visually arresting as it is thought-provoking. And funny with it too. Nick Awde

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

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Reviews - Edinburgh Festival - 2012