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 The Theatreguide.London Reviews

EDINBURGH FESTIVAL AND FRINGE 2013

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 covered more than 160 of the best.

Virtually all of these shows will tour after Edinburgh, and many will come 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 (Demand your money and an hour of your life back), though we urge you to look past the stars to read the accompanying review.


Since serendipity is one of the delights of the Festival, we list all our reviews together so you can browse and perhaps discover something beyond what you were looking for. This list is divided into two pages, in alphabetical order (soloists by last name), with A-L on a first page and M-Z here.

Scroll down this page for our review of Mammoth, The Man Who Planted Trees, Mata Hari, Melmoth the Wanderer, Mercy Killers, La Merda, Monkey Poet, Morning And Afternoon, Moving Family, Murder Marple and Me, My Name Is Sue, Next Door, Nick - An Accidental Hero, Nirbhaya, No Place Like, Not The Messiah,

Omega, Out Of His Skin, Oxford Revue, Pants On Fire's Pinocchio, Party Piece, The Pearl, Pendulums Bargain Emporium, Penelope, Pirates and Mermaids, Play For September, The Play That Goes Wrong, Pole Factor, Pugni Di Zolfo, The Pyramids of Margate, 

Quietly, The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, Real Horror Show, Red Bastard, Repertory Theatre, Lady Rizo, Roughs, 

St George's Medics Revue, Seer, Sex Lives Of Others, Shake The Dust, Shakespeare For Breakfast, Shylock, Six Wives of Henry VIII, Solomon & Marion, Solstice, Something There That's Missing, Squally Showers, Stuart - A Life Backwards, The System,

Tangram, Tea at 5, That Is All You Need To Know, This Side of Paradise, The Three Lions, The Three Little Pigs, Threeway,  [title of show], Tourniquet 2013, Track 3, The Trench, 

Pip Utton as Churchill, Voluntary Departure, We Object, We Will Be Free, The Weaver, Where The White Stops, White Rabbit Red Rabbit, Who's Afraid of Rachel Roberts?

Go to first A-L page.


Mammoth   Pleasance Dome   *
A woman announces that she and her husband were poor parents and she wants to make it up to her son by recreating a family camping trip and getting it right this time. Since the son is not actually present, his role will be played by her mother, and an actor will play the dog. The camping trip is no more successful this time around, and the woman decides it's because they're not close enough to nature and that they need to de-evolve. Some rolling around in a tent with the very affectionate dog seems to achieve this, as she emerges with a tail and much happier, but then someone supposedly from the venue announces that their time is up and they have to abruptly stop without actually finishing the play. Leea Klemola's play, translated literally from the Finnish, has something Luddite buried within it somewhere, but it is a virtually incoherent mess. Deborah Arnott gives an energetic performance, by which I mean she shouts and whines a lot, but all things considered it is probably not a good idea to have one character say, near the end, 'This is the worst play I ever saw'.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Man Who Planted Trees   Scottish Storytelling Centre    ****   (reviewed at a previous Festival)
This lovely, thoughtful play follows an unassuming French shepherd with big dreams and his rascal of a dog, along with the puppeteers who deftly bring them to life. Thoroughly ambitious for a children’s production, the Puppet State company does not talk down to its audience and rather serves up profound topics like purpose and happiness, money, death, and the balance of nature in a way that all ages can absorb at their own level. By dutifully planting trees day in and day out, the shepherd transforms a barren landscape into a lush community that gives shelter and food to thousands of people who never even know of his good deed. A charmingly sparse but imaginative set presents mountains, wells, forests, and sheep herds. Clever interactive elements that left the kids in the audience shrieking with joy included nature scents wafted straight into the crowd and mountain mists spritzed above our heads. The dog puppet mischievously “improvised” much of his role in the play, and never failed to receive riotous laughter from children and adults alike in this tale of a quiet yet meaningful life’s work. An enchanting afternoon with an inspiring message. Hannah Friedman

Mata Hari  Mood Nightclub      ****
Aletia Upstairs' portrayal of the exotic dancer, courtesan and reputed spy of a century ago follows the conventions of the solo portrayal form, but rises well above it thanks to a strong performance that includes attractive and evocative singing as well as narrative, and to a production making imaginative use of projections. Upstairs finds Mata Hari in her prison cell awaiting execution by the French for being a German agent, a natural enough occasion for her to recount the story of a Dutch woman who redefined herself as a portrayer of 'authentic' Eastern dances that were little more than strip teases but enough to make her an international star, and how she came to be convicted (falsely, we are assured) of espionage in World War One. Before a screen that displays an authentic looking scrapbook of photos and press cuttings along with clever animations, Upstairs offers a couple of appropriately cheesy examples of Mata Hari's dances, but also evocatively punctuates the narrative with songs ranging from Piaf's 'Milord' through Johnny Cash's 'Twenty-five Minutes To Go' in a strong, melodic and dramatic delivery that lets their relevance to the story resonate and raises this solo performance well above the average.  Gerald Berkowitz

Melmoth The Wanderer  Assembly Rooms  ****
In this inventive reimagining of Charles Maturin’s gothic novel, Northern Ireland’s Big Telly spawns a sprawling epic that is as witty as it is dark, where a happy-clappy local church choir is disturbed by a stranger’s insistence that they read the devilish tale he carries with him. Reluctantly they comply and so find themselves sucked into a cascade of stories within stories about Melmoth the Wanderer and his Faustian pact. What starts as a whimsical flight of fancy transmorphs into a fully fledged art fest, drawing from a manic gallery of characters whose lives are changed by Melmoth who, granted 150 years of life by the devil, now seeks to pass on the curse to another unsuspecting soul. The company fearlessly pulls in diverse techniques: commedia masks, hand-created projections, an illusionist’s table, a Narnia-style wardrobe. The devil’s voice emanates from a battered reel to reel tape-recorder, a decrepit German couple are life-sized absurdist puppets. Headed by Simon Yadoo as the stranger, the cast brings great energy to the vignettes set up by Zoe Seaton’s meticulous direction. All this neatly sets up a spectrum of styles to suit each narrative, where grand guignol links seamlessly to dreamy mime or the scatty Acorn Antiques main setting. With a nip and a tuck, this should prove to be a touring production welcome at any venue. Nick Awde

Mercy Killers  Assembly Hall  ****
Working or lower-middle class Americans generally have it pretty good. Most have jobs, many own their own homes. But just how very tenuous this security is is the backbone of Michael Milligan's shattering monologue. He's an ordinary working Joe whose life is modestly comfortable until a confluence of medical emergency and credit crunch destroys it. His beloved wife develops cancer and, once insurance runs out, the medical bills run into six figures, and the only way she can qualify for government aid is for them to divorce, making her legally impoverished. The mortgage they never should have been given becomes predictably impossible to pay, and ultimately as horrible as concern for his wife's health is the destruction of his values, his confidence in the American system, and his manhood, so that finally the only loving gift he can offer his suffering wife is the one that has brought him to this police interview room. As performer Milligan invests the character with a solid reality that lets us fill in all the gaps – we don't have to be told where he shops or what he listens to on the radio – and convinces us that the story is about much more than a faulty health system.    Gerald Berkowitz

La Merda (The Shit)  Summerhall   ****   (reviewed at a previous Festival)
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

Monkey Poet - Love Hurts Actually  The Banshee Labyrinth   ****
Beware. You may never again view a cuddly Richard Curtis drama in the same light after experiencing Monkey Poet's solo multi-charactered sequel to blockbuster movie Love Actually. The original romantic comedy roles are somehow transmogrified into Downton Abbey characters where tensions hit pressure cooker level as the house guests gather. As you can imagine, the overlapping plotlines are as intricate as the interlinked relationships. Emma Thompson is their host, still bitter at rejection by former hubby Alan Rickman. Action hero Liam Neeson reveals that he may be as serial a killer as he is a womaniser, while Hugh Grant bemoans an ex-PM’s pension prospects as lover Martine McCutcheon inexplicably turns Glaswegian with all the force of an avenging angel. Played with cruel relish by Monkey Poet (aka Matt Panesh) in cahoots with director Andy McQuade, what gives the satirical slapstick a theatrical backbone, sidestepping the soapbox, is the thoughtful multilayered exploration of a class society where we still applaud films and TV series by the likes of Curtis where the lives of posh educated nobs are upended by the gauche accented commoner. Proudly no-frills and certainly not to everyone's taste, this is samizdat Theatre Workshop at its best and wickedly, wickedly funny with it.  Nick Awde

Morning And Afternoon   Pleasance    **
This pair of tangentially related monologues written and performed by Andy Hinds is decidedly uneven, the very weak second coming nowhere near the modest originality and accomplishment of the first. In Morning a man who always settled for whatever little life offered him is given a gift of unmeasurable value, only to find his joy tempered first by doubt that this can really be happening and then by a wave of self-condemnation for not having reached for more before. Afternoon, connected only by being spoken by the first man's brother, takes us through the over-familiar territory of the young Irish lad who went out into the world in search of his fortune and allowed himself to turn into the cliché of the drunken brawling bum, with the opportunity for a reunion with his brother offering hope of reform and redemption. Dragging on far too long for its slender content, the second monologue fritters away any good will the first engendered. As a performer Andy Hinds does little justice to his own writing, underplaying to the point of offering little sense of either man, though the first monologue does give him a little more opportunity for characterisation.   Gerald Berkowitz

Moving Family   Just The Tonic@The Caves    ***
This unusual take on the class divisions that still define so much of our country explores the attitudes of two sets of teenagers, one from the estates, the other privately educated. Setting them in the back of a removals van adds to the unusualness of Paul Charlton’s gently satirical play. All too normal, however, are the attitudes on display as well-heeled brother and sister Key (Dean Logan) and Stef (Alice Stokoe) clash with their new siblings rough diamonds Carl (Stephen Gregory) and Laurett (Georgia Richardson) as they and their possessions ride to the new home of their newly married parents. Schoolyard stand-offs and keeping up with the Joneses situations abound, while other, deeper divisions also crop up, in the process creating unlikely alliances - the fact that Laurett is mixed race brings out sub-EDL eugenics in Key and unites the other three in response, while the girls find solidarity in fighting back against the incipient sexism of the males. We know that teenagers can be like this in any case, with anything that'll get a rise or impress the impressionable. But Charlton avoids ticklisting, and makes the point that these attitudes can stick for life if we're not forced to communicate with each other. Emma Roxburgh’s direction is not as channelled as it should be and some tension and comedy gets lost. Nevertheless the cast works successfully to keep the chemistry going, eliciting a lot of deserved laughs from the audience - often out of recognition.  Nick Awde

Murder, Marple And Me   Gilded Balloon    ***   (reviewed at a previous Festival)
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

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


Next Door  Underbelly     *****
When a man's neighbour dies and he realises he never actually knew him, it sends him in search of a time or place when he was better connected to those around him, and he finds it in childhood's ability to bond instantly and unreservedly. From a concept that could generate melodrama or farce, Outofbalanz create a joyful celebration of theatre itself, inviting the audience into the uninhibited exercise of their imaginations. With Ivan Hansen doing much of the talking as the man and Pekka Räikkönen much of the mime as Everyone Else, we are taken, on an essentially bare stage, from a ten-year-old's version of Star Wars and Superman to a small boat in a stormy sea and a three-boy bicycle race conveyed by two actors. And compounding the fun is the fact that Hansen's narrator, like Shon Dale Jones' Welsh
naif Hugh Hughes, has comically inordinate trouble making the simplest points, and feels he has to work very hard, for example, to be sure we understand that Denmark and Finland are different countries. Ultimately the point being made by the play, that childhood is a golden time and that we might try to hang on to some of its openness, is also a simple one, but the inventive and entertaining process of making it is a joy in itself. . Gerald Berkowitz

Nick: An Accidental Hero  Assembly      ***
In 2000 New Zealand rugby player Nick Chisholm suffered a massive stroke that left him with locked-in syndrome, fully conscious but unable to tell anyone that until a buddy (not a doctor) hit on the eye-blink code, later followed by an alphabet chart and computer by which he painstakingly spells out what he wants to say. Over the years he's regained a little movement and even carried on an internet romance with an English woman who moved around the world to marry him. Renee Lyons tells Nick's story by playing several roles, including the woman, a loyal friend and a Korean nurse. The story is inevitably heart-warming, but there's a hole in the middle that keeps it from succeeding as a theatre piece. Except for a couple of silent moments of physical therapy, Lyons never plays Nick himself, and we are limited to other characters reading his spelled-out messages. There's a hint of a sense of humour and just one brief moment of self-pity, but we have to take on faith that there is some core of heroism in the man that sustains him, and we get little sense of the personality that inspired the love and loyalty of those around him. Without any evidence to support Lyons' obvious admiration for Nick, this comes across as a fan's hagiography without any real insight into the man himself.  Gerald Berkowitz

Nirbhaya  Assembly Hall     ****
The gang rape and murder of a woman on a New Delhi bus in 2012 shocked the world and galvanised Indian women (and many men) who demanded nothing less than a broad cultural change ending centuries of assuming women to be so insignificant that crimes against them were trivial. Now director Yael Farber has brought together five women to tell their own stories – of childhood sexual abuse, rape, beatings by fathers and husbands, separation from their children, and casual everyday groping and insults in buses and crowds – in every case with the knowledge of others who did not think their pain worthy of being stopped. The tales are harrowing, and every audience is marked by women moved to tears by one or another. But this is also a theatre piece, and Farber uses the tools of the stage to support the testimony. The New Delhi rape victim (named Nirbhaya, or 'The Fearless One', for her two-week struggle for life after her dreadful injuries) walks silently or quietly singing though the action, the only one in white, as both a ghost and the inspiring spirit of the speakers, and the individual testimonies are accompanied or punctuated by the constant marching back and forth of the other women (and the one man who plays multiple supporting roles), suggesting both the crowded city and the willful turning-away and not-seeing of the culture. Hardly entertainment by any conventional definition, Nirbhaya is a salute to and celebration of a generation of women setting out to change a nation. 
Gerald Berkowitz

No Place Like     Zoo    ****
Old age, identity and belonging are dusted off in this thoughtful and often moving devised piece from Le Mot Juste, as characters are created from everyday conversations and recollections. These emanate from elderly residents in care homes, who connect with their vanishing past in an intriguing variety of ways and so link us to their own present worldview. Here, those voices are recreated as verbal and visual poetry, where personalities overlap just as time shifts from the present to the past and back again. A woman recalls coming to the UK as a refugee from war-torn Europe, a man details the week’s agenda of TV soaps, the power of memory waxes and wanes with regularly misplaced handbags at teatime. The resulting mosaic, underpinned by an intense yet understated movement, has the effect of presenting us with a fully fleshed out drama, creating expectation for each character’s return to the narrative. Working with deviser-director Bryony Thomas, the cast of Ben Hadley, Monika Lindeman and Sophie Winter are spot-on in their characterisations and display an attention to simple movement not often seen in this sort of UK-based ensemble. This focus on detail also translates into a palpable respect for their subjects, and so lifts their stories beyond simple verbatim to a heart-felt universality.  Nick Awde

Not The Messiah  Pleasance    **
Tom Crawshaw's biographical monologue about Monty Python's Graham Chapman follows the standard formula for such shows, with no special originality or insight. Discovered in hospital near the end of his life, George Telfer as Chapman reminisces, taking us from boyhood to Cambridge, where along with reading medicine he met John Cleese and began writing revue sketches with him, to further medical training, discovering his homosexuality, meeting his life partner, joining Monty Python, becoming an alcoholic, coming out publicly, drying out and developing cancer (the result of a lifetime of pipe-smoking), roughly in that order. Telfer makes no particular attempt to sound or act like Chapman, though he does do a pretty good Cleese impression, and the script has him occasionally interrupting as the disapproving military officer or King Arthur. So what we get is the kind of quick biography that might fit into a paragraph, and it's hard to believe that anyone who would be interested in seeing this show doesn't know most of the story already. Meanwhile, what Chapman or Python fans would be looking for – any new insights into the man, or at least some fresh or entertaining anecdotes – just aren't there.  Gerald Berkowitz

Omega  Assembly Rooms     **
Welcome to blackSKYwhite’s physical interpretation of a 'hoochie-coochie carnival for the end of time', presented as faux horror shtick with lashings of punk and transgender allure, limned with a freak show grimness beloved of European productions of this ilk. But while as a spectacle there is some merit, there is not much else. An obese MC declaims through a megaphone unintelligibly, a two-headed singer in tails sings a jaunty number intelligibly, a plumed clown dances as a loon-faced pierrot looks on, a human cat’s cradle is constructed, a conductor sticks batons through his old man’s mask, a disembodied head sings from a fruit platter. There is no discernable technique, merely a stream of manic energy set in endless repetition, the relentlessness of which achieves its aim, where it is the image rather than the action that sticks in your head. Additionally, there is an unforgivable disregard for sightlines in the centre carnival tent that forms the focus of the main routines. Meanwhile, Michael Begg’s alternately hi-octane/orchestral soundtrack ranges across an impressive gamut of styles but is compressed to death, the volume pumped up way beyond distortion. The audience lapped it all up, fully expectant of what was in store for them. It would therefore be a disservice to comment further, but honestly this could have been done so much better.  Nick Awde

Out Of His Skin  Zoo Southside     **
A darkened expanse offset by a tower of girders. Cue a latticework of squares of light in which crop-haired boiler-suited dancers burst into a regimented exploration of the search for ever greater adrenaline highs as the beat of the music ups and the pace quickens. They parry, swirl in an infinity of combinations, whittling away the group before building it up again in cycles of controlled activity. 2Faced’s ambitious piece is billed as “a reaction to everyday people taking up extreme sports as a release from their stressful lives” and director Tamsin Fitzgerald keeps the edge on the action, constantly playing with the light and shade offered by Nina Bertolone’s set and Anthony Murphy’s industrial soundtrack. The six-strong ensemble respond with drilled energy and keep a tight focus throughout this demanding piece. However, it is a bit of a mixed bag. Full marks for effort but a lot less for what your ticket buys you. There simply are not enough ideas to fill out the 50-plus minutes of the piece and with 20 minutes cut things would be far sharper, particularly since it lacks a sustainable narrative. Murphy’s score also runs out of steam and, in this production at least, needs urgent sorting for low frequencies and decibels – the effect is stomach-churning and tinnitis-inducing.  Nick Awde

Oxford Revue  Underbelly     ***
This year's Oxford revue is very much a hit-or-miss affair, with an overall sense of trying too hard for too easy laughs and not always achieving them. The running gag of TV license adverts is good, the parody of religious broadcasting isn't. The North Pole sketch is silly enough to be fun, while the Mafia sketch spreads a very limited joke too thin. The girl bully and P E sketches are desperately in need of something actually funny in them, while the M&S and bickering lovers scenes find enough to carry them. Your general impression will be that they're clearly capable of clever stuff, but too often their imagination stops with the concept of a sketch without actually filling it in.  Gerald Berkowitz

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Pants On Fire's Pinocchio  Pleasance Dome     **
A few years ago Pants On Fire set Ovid's Metamorphoses in the 1940s so inventively that the period illuminated the myths and the myths increased our appreciation of the period. Now they filter Pinocchio through the prism of 1950s low-budget horror movies, but their inspiration seems to have stopped with the concept and the result is as much a dud as its predecessor was a delight. Geppetto carves his puppet while in an alien-induced trance, Jiminy is a giant mutant cricket, Cat and Fox are seductive streetwalkers, and I'm not sure who or what the Fairy is – and that is the extent of the imagination shown here. For no particular reason everyone is given either a comic Brooklyn accent or a comic Southern accent, and neither is as comic as they think it is. The fairy tale's moral lessons about going to school and telling the truth are repeated so many times that they don't seem sure whether this is meant to be a witty pastiche for adults or an earnest theatre-in-schools lesson for children. To compound the disappointment, the performances are all sloppy and without energy and the pacing glacial, giving the impression of a dispirited company at the end of a long and unsuccessful tour rather than the opening of a new work. The performance I saw deserved a single star; I'll give them another one on the chance that they'll wake up and develop some energy during the Edinburgh run.  Gerald Berkowitz

Party Piece  Bedlam     ****
If you’re expecting yet another show about young people going on about what it's like to grow up while getting off their faces, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. What you get is a supremely hi-octane piece of pure theatre that also has you laughing and rooting for this motley quartet of Norwich mates whose hang-ups unfold along with their hangovers. There’s cocky Jack (Jack Brett), earthy Lorna (Lorna Garside), loopy Aidan (Aidan Napier) and geeky Steve (Steve Withers). Sore-headed and queasy, squashed on a sofa between the microphone in the toilet and the empty cans, they survey the wreckage of the morning after before rewinding to the night before, a neat feature of writing and staging equally where introspection alternates with extreme physicality – the synchronised vomit sequence is pure dance while the roll calls of tipples and drugs of choice are punny and funny. Writer Rob Salmon and the company capture all the magic of a devised piece via an ambitious range of styles that fuse into an impressive whole. Whatever your age, you’ll find yourself chuckling more than once with recognition at this post-mortem of a party/anatomy of a life, in a production that will find a ready welcome anywhere should it decide to tour. Nick Awde

The Pearl  Pleasance     ****
John Steinbeck's novel of a poor pearl diver who finds a pearl of immense value only to have it bring him nothing but bad fortune is treated as a folk tale in this adaptation by Sam Gayton, and presented by the versatile performers of Dumbshow with a joy in imagination and performance that cushions and counterbalances the darker aspects of the story. The bouncy rhymed couplets of the narration are jauntily recited by a chorus who also double and triple as various characters, all but the hero and his wife presented as near cartoons of villainy or veniality. The performance vocabulary is broad and fluid enough to include mime and symbolic action as well as realism, and two of the most delightful sequences are an underwater scene represented by a bubble machine, with empty water bottles as passing fish and inverted bowls as turtles, and a moment of celebration involving Barbra Streisand. Michael Bryher is a strong presence as the fisher, capturing the glory and pathos of the man's first-ever stirrings of hope and ambition, and the horror as he discovers a capacity for acquisitiveness and violence in himself, with Hester Bond affecting as his loyal but apprehensive wife. 
Gerald Berkowitz

Pendulums Bargain Emporium  Pleasance Dome     ****
Pendulums is a high-street store somewhere near where you live. It’s a bewitching place, designed to allure you into the delights of its retail paradise, yet the illusion soon flips over to reveal a far darker side via Maison Foo’s deliciously witty view of our consumerist world. As the staff welcome you in with, well, welcoming smiles, welcoming sales patter, welcoming counters of samples and store cards, a mysterious accordionist kicks off a parallel tale about elves, a shoemaker and an old lady who lived in a shoe. Gradually store and story converge in what turns out to to be a funny yet serious political parable of how a struggling artisan shoemaker’s wife is seduced into flogging mass-produced, low-quality footwear. At the drop of a special-offer hat, Bethany Sheldon, Kathryn Lowe, Morgan Brind and Matt Marks transmorph from preening store assistants to polka-choristers, puppeteers and talking heads in boxes. The multi-genre approach typical of today’s devised ensembles tends to create cluttered shows, but this is not the case here, as this supremely concentrated quartet keep the surprises coming, transitioning seamlessly between often wildly different scenes and techniques, taking the audience with them each step of the way. Engaging and exquisitely designed, this is a perfect production for a tour on any scale.  Nick Awde

Penelope  Space@Surgeon's Hall     ****
Texas-based Doghouse Theatre takes on Molly Bloom's soliloquy, the chapter-long stream-of-consciousness monologue that ends Joyce's Ulysses, nicely organising and clarifying its ramblings by dividing it among three voices. As she lies in bed next to the sleeping husband whose wanderings through Dublin made up the body of the novel, Molly thinks, in no particular order, about him, other lovers she's had, what clothes to wear and food to cook, the young man he's brought home to spend the night, and just about anything else that these images digress into, climaxing with the memory of her husband-to-be's proposal and her life-affirming Yes. The three actresses – Mary Emfinger, Lianne O'Shea and Nicole Sykes – make no attempt to capture the lilt of Irish accents or to disguise their own American sounds, which works quite nicely in replacing any taint of Literary Classic with the naturalness of contemporary young women's thoughts. If some of the psychology implicit in the stream-of-consciousness – i.e., the insight into how Molly's mind works – is lost when her thoughts become a conversation among different voices, the loss is small compared to the clarity that separating out her threads of thought provides. Those who know the novel will delight in this intelligent and evocative interpretation of one of its most famous passages, while those who don't can fall under its spell for the first time. 
  Gerald Berkowitz

Pirates and Mermaids  Scottish Storytelling Centre     *****
An Edinburgh garden stands in for New York's Central Park in this spellbinding tale devised by performer Jeremiah Reynolds and director Sandy Thomson. Four times a day an audience numbering from two to ten is led to a couple of park benches, where a young man strikes up a conversation. He's a transplanted Scot – in his image, a pirate who sails the seas – who misses his girl back home, a mermaid content with her rock. They Skype and email, but it's not enough, and he is so committed to his new world and she to her old one, with neither ready to move, that he's tempted to break it off. Quietly and conversationally, Jeremiah Reynolds draws us into this very real and human story with a performance of total and intimate authenticity, so that every plot twist – they do meet again, though not in ideal circumstances – has us at the edge of our benches, hoping for things to turn out all right. Both writing and performance give the attractive impression of stream-of-consciousness spontaneity, though the skilful manner in which the appropriate and resonant Scots fable of the skelkie is woven into the narrative shows how expertly crafted it is.  Gerald Berkowitz

Play For September  Pleasance     ****
Teacher-pupil relationships and underage consent are becoming a permanent fixture in the headlines and it's a hard subject to tackle without incurring audience fatigue. Satisfyingly, Olivia Hirst has written a play that meets the issues full on while also being a powerful examination of friendship and loyalty. Kay (Naomi McMorran) and Elle (Rianna Dearden) are mates in and out of school - at 15 they're already talking about the big wide world in between comparing crushes - on teachers as well as the boys. All normal so far, until Kay admits she fancies Mr Bode (Jim Crago), the new English teacher. A romance blossoms – an appropriate term in Kay’s eyes, believing that her clandestine grooming by Mr Bode is based on love. Meanwhile, Elle watches on in shock and soon finds herself cajoled and pressurised into silence by Kay playing on her guilt and a slew of gifts from their English teacher. Hirst’s intelligent play has an authentic ring to it, which director Agnes Wild carefully instils in the cast’s convincing portrayals. In looking at the wider picture, therefore, we gradually realise that this is Elle’s story, her loyalty to Kay tested and surviving, yet still leading to her own life being sucked up into the damage wreaked as a result of her friend's unnatural relationship.  Nick Awde

The Play That Goes Wrong  Pleasance     *****
This comedy, which has already played in London, occupies a space between The Mousetrap and Noises Off. An amateur (in every sense of the word) theatre company seeks to put on a country house murder mystery. Even before the not-curtain is raised, there are problems with the props and these prefigure an hour of joyous mayhem. Belying the ambitions of the director/stage detective, who just happens to be a Michael Palin lookalike, this performance continues to go wrong from the off. Anything that could go awry does, as well as much that couldn’t. Inter alia, the prima donna leading actress is accidentally knocked out and replaced by the stage manager who goes the same way. Doors do and don’t open, cues are missed and jumped, the writing is bad, the acting is worse and that merely scratches the surface. The result is a carefully crafted and absolutely hilarious hour that will inevitably please everyone with an interest in theatre, though others are also guaranteed to have a whale of a time. Philip Fisher

Pole Factor  Space on the Mile     ***
Celebrity pole dancer Sam – or Coco as she asks everyone to call her – has publicly rejected her Islamic background and sees dancing as the way to help her establish a new identity. As she wins each heat in the competition of the title, she uses it as a highly charged platform to campaign against the building of a mosque in the area. When we meet her, Sam/Coco (Natasha Atherton) is flying high on her newfound celebrity just as her relationship with devoted boyfriend Max (Ian Baksh) hits a terminal low. Despite her success, Sam becomes increasingly vulnerable as her friendship with fellow pole dancer contestant Gina (Fiona McGee) fails to offer her a way out after personal threats against her mount and the reappearence of crack-head fundamentalist Hanif (Farhan Khan) drags her back into the past she’s escaping. Scripted by Nazish Khan as a commentary on radicalism, celebrity and the empowerment of women with backstories of abusive relationships and personal loyalties, there's a lot crammed into this single hour – and the pole dancing angle becomes almost incidental. Khan’s direction is similarly stretched for the same reasons. It would be wise to reduce the plot options for the one-act show and save the rest for the two-act version that this deserves to be developed into.  Nick Awde

Pugni Di Zolfo  Zoo Southside     ****
'Fists of Sulfer', the English title of Maurizio Lombardi's solo show, applies both to the power of the prizefighter Lombardi plays and to the story that character tells of an earlier generation in Sicily's infamous sulphur mines. The fighter's pain after a losing bout serves as a Proustian window to memories of his childhood, when an uncle who went into the mines as a child never came out, and the fighter's mother made the sacrifice of sending him away forever to save him from the same fate. Lombardi creates both settings out of very little, a few shadows turning the prizefighter's sweaty torso into the dirt-encrusted body of a half-naked miner, the small space under the fighter's massage table becoming the cramped mine. While the specifics may be new, the general idea of inhumanly dangerous work, the sacrifice of saving a son from it, and the way the survivor is haunted by the guilt-tinged memory is one British audiences can relate to, and Lombardi's intense performance, in accented but clear English, delivers a powerful psychological and emotional punch.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Pyramids of Margate  Hill Street     ****
In this winning coming-of-age-far-later-than-usual tale, we meet David – 40 years-old, painfully single and proud to be from seaside resort Margate, faded glory and all. Of course, he has a humdrum job, he's secretly fallen for the Polish girl in accounts and he's obsessed with Doctor Who. And then one clear evening, the stars, in the manner of buses, converge unexpectedly and all of David’s geeky hopes and dreams threaten to turn to reality. Interest from the object of his affections hots up. Then, somehow armed with the Doctor Who scarf his mum knitted him, he ends up on a beach at night, scanning the galaxies for that elusive ping from alien life that will change his life. Changes do ultimately arrive, but not quite as we expect. Martin Stewart is achingly, unnervingly spot-on as David, creating a strangely sympathetic character whom you’d run a mile from if he started talking about the merits of dalek episodes down the pub, yet whose underdog manner and aspirations get you rooting for him instantly. The story is slight and could do with more depth written in – but such is the convincing richness of David’s world, this funny/sad play strikes all the right chords and reveals a thoughtful side to our humanity. Nick Awde



Quietly   Traverse   ****
In this Abbey Theatre production Owen McCafferty tells an overly familiar story very well, but it remains just one more retelling, not adding enough to our understanding to be fully satisfying. In contemporary Belfast two men in their fifties have an uneasy reunion. More than three decades ago the Protestant one threw a bomb that killed the Catholic one's father among others, and now it is time to see whether talking about it will accomplish anything. McCafferty's conclusion – that even if it doesn't, the encounter itself will create a kind of closure – may seem like grasping at straws, and the real strength of the play lies in the contrasting pictures it offers us of the old crime, the victim's son still only able to see it through the prism of anger and pain while the now-older-and-wiser bomber acknowledges the sheer banality of a teenager getting caught up in sectarian hatred without any real understanding of it. It is that recognition that it wasn't just a single-faceted event easily defined by good and evil but one experienced by real people in different ways, that may offer the two men some sort of peace. A passionate performance by Patrick O'Kane and a quieter one (literally, sometimes to near-inaudibility) by Declan Conlon carry the play over the well-trodden ground while Robert Zawadski provides support as a sympathetic but unobtrusive bartender, though the playwright's attempt to suggest topical relevance through this Polish character's experience of prejudice in today's Belfast is its weakest element.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning   Pleasance at St Thomas of Aquin's School   *****
Bradley Manning, the American soldier who leaked embarrassing military secrets to Wikileaks, spent part of his childhood in Wales, which is sufficient reason for the National Theatre of Wales to adopt him and his cause as the basis for this exciting work of pure theatre. Playwright Tim Price actually finds the roots of Manning's acts in his imagined Welsh schooling, which seems to have consisted entirely of lessons in Welsh civil disobedience martyrs. Though one might just as likely credit his homosexuality, his unresolved relationship with his father or just the horrors that crossed his computer screen daily as an intelligence analyst in Afghanistan, the cause is ultimately less significant than the process, and the theatrical process of presenting it. Director John E. McGrath's production owes much to the National Theatre of Scotland's Black Watch of a few years back in fluidly moving back and forth in time and place with precise choreography and an unflagging sense of excitement. The cast of six take turns playing Manning, passing the role from one to another with a pair of eyeglasses while little more than a change of shirts or the rearranging of chairs keeps us clear when and where we are at every moment. The real Manning may be a hero, a traitor or just a confused young man (or all three); the staged story of Manning is one of the best shows in town. 
  Gerald Berkowitz

Real Horror Show   Assembly Roxy    ***
The latest instalment in Colin Hoult’s ongoing exploration of the underbelly of comic horror takes yet another step into the morass of his febrile imagination. Aided and abetted by an experienced stable of players, for this outing he unveils an ambitious set of five long pieces plus a coda. A brat pretending to be a werewolf sparks a waiting room spat of epic proportions, a job restart trainer turns weird on his trainee, a killer runs amok in a darkened chamber, feral schoolchildren abound. Meanwhile, hushed mentions of a controlling eminence grise become a motif along the way, along with the themes of cold disempowerment of the underdog by the system and the dark side of even the most ordinary of lives. What begins as classic Hoult sketches soon unravel into something more akin to short stories in structure, so offering far more scope for character development – and tension obviously – and although the script not as honed as it should be, director Kat Hoult keeps the fingers of ace comic team Hoult, John Kearns, Stuart Laws, Louise Stewart, Sarah Daykin and Matthew Floyd Jones firmly on the pulse. Even though a work in progress, this is still a show you want to dive back into again to spot the subtle levels of detail you missed first time around.  Nick Awde

Red Bastard   Assembly     ****
Lecoq is a liberating theatre concept that allows the performer to reach out into their adoring audience. Bullying that same audience into submission is another way of looking at it. Gleefully, Red Bastard (aka Eric Davis) takes on board both attitudes to further his mission to educate us in his demented master class on the art of performance. And let no one deny he has the chops, having earned his blue ribbon as a Lecoq bouffon – the clown who taunts the audience - as well as a stint at Cirque du Soleil. Absurd yet menacing in red body suit, Red Bastard is all leering face, spindly legs and supersize belly and bum. His assertion that 'something must happen every ten seconds' is a threat and a challenge to the audience as it rapidly sinks in that we are the show. He prowls the benches in search of fresh victims who will pass or fail the exacting steps to artistic perfection that he expects of us all. Traps are strewn, where any answer incurs a damning, chiding 'wrong!' and a forfeit incurred or even ejection from the theatre (an action that morally oversteps the mark unless the ejected audience members are plants - to discuss). There is no hiding in the back rows either as the Bastard’s simple Simon routines involve everyone, his beady eye ever watchful for dissenters in need of more forfeits. Grotesque yet magnificent in his life-affirming irony (important note: don’t confuse this with satire), Red Bastard channels theatre and comedy, fear and delight, ignorance and education to create a truly unique audience experience.  Nick Awde

Repertory Theatre   C Chambers St   *****    (reviewed at a previous Festival)
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

Lady Rizo   Assembly Checkpoint    ****
Lady Rizo is what Lady Gaga wants to be when she grows up. Under all Gaga's silly costumes is a jazz stylist trying to break free, and Lady Rizo is there already, combining excellent singing with naughty comedy and a hint of the outrageous. Rizo's repertoire ranges from Cole Porter through disco to her own compositions, all of which she delivers with the natural jazz singer's ability to improvise and ornament a melody and an intelligent dramatic understanding of the words. She can turn 'Sinner Man' into a growl of satisfaction at the bastard's comeuppance and make 'Over The Rainbow' the wail of a woman on the edge of a mental breakdown. If there's one criticism to make of her hour-long set, it is that she should trust her singing more. She doesn't really have to rely on jokes and a Mae West-like parody sexuality to win the audience over. As enjoyable as her personality is and as effective her flirtation with the audience, we'd gladly skip all the filigree and just listen to her sing more.  
  Gerald Berkowitz

Roughs   Zoo Southside    ***
Two of Samuel Beckett's lesser pieces, both of which began as abandoned scripts and were later polished and released, are given respectful production by this two-man company. Rough For Theatre I, which owes a clear debt to Yeats' short plays, shows a blind beggar and a crippled one manoeuvring uneasily toward a friendship, their self-protective wariness battling their hunger for companionship. In Rough II, which plays like a Pinter revue sketch, a man stands on a window ledge deciding whether to jump while two bureaucrats plough through reams of files about him to see if there's a case for stopping him. Adam El Hagar and Michael Rivers are more successful with the delicate psychology of the first, though they can't disguise the fact that it's more the undeveloped idea for a playlet than a finished product. In the second they understand that the joke lies in the men's getting bogged down in minutia and not comprehending the life-or-death situation, but they don't run with the joke sufficiently, generally missing the farcical tone and the opportunities for tightly choreographed physical comedy.  Gerald Berkowitz

St George's Medics Revue - Midwife Crisis   Spaces@Surgeon's Hall    ****
Decades ago medical student revues were a Fringe staple, but they faded away in the 1990s, only recently to begin creeping back, one or two a year. St. George's this year is actually one of the best revues around, easily outclassing Oxford and Cambridge. There are, as you might guess, a lot of medical sketches, including witty digs at the notorious Mid Staffs Trust and seemingly endless layers of pointless inquiries, and at senior doctors in general and surgeons in particular. But it's not all parochial, as there are funny bits about ham actors, TV reality shows, online dating, The Archers and wanking, and even a couple of musical numbers. If you see only one student revue this year . . . . though it would be nice to believe they devote as much cleverness and energy to their studies.  Gerald Berkowitz

Seer   Underbelly    **
A group-created production of the international company Penn Dixie, Seer attempts to tell the story of poet Arthur Rimbaud through a variety of theatrical modes, and doesn't succeed, mainly through a failure to build on a strong beginning. The opening moments are promising, as a modern academic narrator is repeatedly chased offstage by Rimbaud who doesn't want his story turned into dry narrative. The actor playing Rimbaud then takes over the narration, and actress playing his younger self in scenes of his childhood and youth that are inventively staged. And then, somewhere around the fifteen or twenty-minute mark, all imagination and invention seems to fail the company. The rest of the story – the meeting and affair with Verlaine, the renunciation of poetry, and what Rimbaud did with the rest of his life – is either told in totally untheatrical and uninteresting ways or not told at all, and the play drags its way to end with an extended whimper. 
  Gerald Berkowitz

Sex Lives of Others   Pleasance    ***
We all acknowledge that fantasies can sometimes be better than the real thing, but perhaps other people's sex lives – or what we imagine about them – can be more interesting than our own. That's the premise of Keely Winstone's light little comedy, as a young couple and an older one separated by a thin wall repeatedly find themselves distracted from their own amorous activities by the sounds or silences from next door. Like any one-premise comedy, the joke eventually wears thin, but Winstone and her actors search out all the humour to be found in the premise. Concentration, as it turns out, is not all that easy to maintain even without the distraction, as the middle-aged couple delighting in the absence of their children keep pausing to worry about them, and the young man sometimes seems more interested in Boggle than blowjobs. Which pair do finally succeed in getting it on is a nice twist, but essentially there's not much more to this comedy but continuous coitus distractus, and it's about as satisfying – which is no small amount – as an hour's worth of good TV sitcoms. 
  Gerald Berkowitz

Shake The Dust   Spaces On The Mile   ***
A 22 year old woman refuses to attend her birthday party, preferring to hide out in the garage amidst toys and other mementos of her childhood. The well-meaning attempts of a slow-thinking neighbour and the more insistent demands of her pushy sister get nowhere, as we gradually realise she's in the process of a breakdown triggered, we gather, from the confidence-shaking trauma of moving from university to her first real job. This short play by Lucy Kempster and Emma Beverley is earnest and well-meaning – proceeds of the run are being donated to a mental health charity – but covers no new territory, its strengths lying in the characterisations, nicely developed by the young cast. Immie Davies touchingly conveys the fragility of the panicking young woman and her embarrassment at having to admit it, Myer Wakefield shows why some are uncomfortable around the socially awkward young man while letting us see his capacity for warmth and insight, and Caitlin Hare takes the risk of being very unpleasant as the sister on the way toward exposing her real love for her sibling once she realises the problem. It is the fleshing-out of the potentially formulaic characters that keeps this small piece from being merely a charity appeal. 
Gerald Berkowitz

Shakespeare For Breakfast   C Chambers St   ****
More than two decades ago a Fringe group with an empty morning slot put together a Shakespeare pastiche, luring audiences in with free coffee and croissants. Now a Fringe institution, the show has a new company and new script every year, the only constants being an inventive irreverence toward Shakespeare, and croissants. This year's edition builds The Taming Of The Shrew around a Kate in the new-baby news recently, as William Petruchio pays court to the elder daughter of the house of Middleton. Harry Lucentio is there, too, with a vocabulary not much more extensive than 'Phwoar!', and Pippa Bianca, very aware of how sexy she is, and – well, you get the idea. Actually, and a little disappointingly, the invention seems to have stalled with the concept and what we get is a nice fifty-minute version of Shakespeare's play, with not nearly as many topical gags or other inserted jokes as we might wish for. But perhaps that's something only a veteran of past SFB shows would complain about – The Taming Of The Shrew is funny enough on its own, the comic performances are good, and the few added gags are all fun, so the hour goes by quite nicely. And croissants.  Gerald Berkowitz

Shylock  Assembly Hall        *****   (reviewed at a previous Festival)
Edinburgh is the home of the solo show and, all too often, the home of the tedious solo show. This play bucks that trend with great writing from Gareth Armstrong (and William Shakespeare) and a perfect performance from Guy Masterson as the put-upon Venetian Jew and his friend Tubal, whose calm perspective is valuable, as hatred takes over from business. Shylock works because it sets The Merchant of Venice and its central figure in perspective. The play looks at the Jewish experience in Europe over five or so centuries leading up to the play, culminating not only with Shylock but a brief burst of Barabbas from Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta. It also traces Shakespeare’s source to help viewers to understand where this creation came from.  However, the main reason for rushing to Assembly Hall is to see Guy Masterson, under the direction of the writer, who has himself performed the monologue around the globe, affectionately playing Shylock but also those around him. He is especially good as the calmly cruel Portia, who takes anti-Semitism to a new level, at least on one reading of the text and context. Philip Fisher

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The Six Wives Of Henry VIII  Assembly      ****
I am a sucker for the kind of comedy show in which two or three actors play all the roles, the quick changes, inappropriate casting, costume malfunctions and dissension in the ranks being part of the fun, and this one, in which two guys in their sitting room try to put together an historical drama, is a hoot and a holler and a lot of laughs. Howard Coggins, chubby and bearded, does look a bit like Henry, while Stu McLoughlin, tall and thin, makes a comically valiant effort to impersonate at least five of the wives, the Boleyn sisters being portrayed by Barbie dolls. Yes, a big guy galumphing around in a dress is an easy laugh, but it's a fair one, and McLoughlin does succeed in differentiating among the ladies by making each an instant cartoon with just a touch of depth – Catherine Howard is a provincial hausfrau, Anne of Cleves a disapproving nanny. Meanwhile there are the requisite comic shortcuts and anachronisms – phone calls to the Pope, choosing an Archbishop of Canterbury as X Factor auditions, Dating Game selection of one bride – along with come clever songs and even the odd moment of seriousness, as in Henry's quiet contentment with #6. Probably a more memorable history lesson than you got in school, and a whole lot funnier. 
  Gerald Berkowitz

Solomon And Marion  Assembly Hall      ****
Lara Foot's 2011 drama has almost the exact same story as Philip Ridley's 2000 Vincent River – a mother grieving for her murdered son is visited by a boy who witnessed the murder, and hearing the painful story from another's perspective helps her find some peace while relieving the boy's guilt at not having been able to stop the killing. Setting it in South Africa adds some overtones, making this crime and these mourners emblematic of a culture that sometimes seems to be sinking into a chaos of street crime. But the real attraction is the opportunity to see Janet Suzman give a confidently unflashy performance as a woman halted in the process of withdrawing from life by the gesture of a stranger. Khayalethu Anthony provides solid support, making the lad more than just a plot device, and the playwright directs with quiet confidence in her actors and her story. 
  Gerald Berkowitz

Solstice  Assembly Roxy     **
In an isolated Highlands cottage a man and woman stand over the body of someone they've just murdered. Their plan is to dispose of the evidence after dark, but they've chosen the longest day of the year, which means that they have a lot of time in which to plot, fret, bicker and, inevitably, turn against each other. This new play by Angela Ness and Glen Davies is written strictly according to formula, and not even the specific backstories each of the characters is given, the woman's accusing each of the men, dead and alive, of paedophilia, or the late announcement that some of what we've been told or shown wasn't true can make it stand out from the crowd. You might not be able to predict every single revelation or plot twist from the start, but none is likely to surprise you. Given characters who, despite what are meant to be shocking discoveries along the way, aren't much better known or developed at the end than they were at the start, Mark Kydd and Annabel Logan work admirably to inject some reality and depth into their performances.  Gerald Berkowitz

Something There That's Missing   Space@Jury's Inn         *
Anh Chu, a Chinese Canadian living in London, has written and stars in a play about a Chinese Canadian woman in London trying to write a play. She (the onstage writer) spends her time fighting writer's block, fending off her mother's Skyped criticism and coping with a nagging puppet conscience. Despite our being told that the play she's working on is bad, we're shown large chunks of the very twee fable of a young girl's quest through an enchanted forest accompanied by an orange hippo puppet, and we learn very late in Chu's script that it's actually a metaphor for a medical treatment her writer character had back in Canada. Neither the inner nor the outer play works, and Anh Chu is less convincing playing herself than Siu-See Hung is as a ten-year-old or Julie Cheung-Inhin as a hippo, though Hung is funny as the mother in some video sequences. This earnest little play might, with some rewriting and a stronger production, work as a piece of children's theatre, but it is simply out of its league even by the most generous of Fringe standards, and all things considered, it is probably not a good idea to have your autobiographical character say, near the end, 'At best now I know I'm not meant to be a writer'. Gerald Berkowitz

Squally Showers  Zoo Southside     *****
This was one of my most enjoyable hours in Edinburgh, and I haven't the foggiest idea what it was about. Little Bulb Theatre fill their show with such attractively eccentric characters and delightful stage pictures that you give up trying to make sense of its story and just let it wash over you. We're in a television company, sometime (judging by the hairstyles) in the 1980s, where each of the departments – sales, human resources, the newsroom – has some fresh young junior staff whose energy and ambition variously excites or threatens their seniors. And, aside from the fact that the HR director and his wife seem to have a sideline in marital counselling videos, is about all I'm sure of. But everybody in the cast dances, each character having a signature way of entering a room or crossing the stage that they maintain throughout. The weather girl dances the weather report, bubble machines fill the room with bubbles, and at one point someone in a Margaret Thatcher mask dances on a map of Britain while money showers down on her. That last suggests some sort of political satire to accompany the passing digs at corporate team-building, self-help philosophies and office politics – but don't try to figure out the message. Just enjoy the bubbles.  Gerald Berkowitz

Stuart - A Life Backwards  Underbelly Topside     ***
In 1998 charity worker Alexander Masters met Stuart Shorter, a homeless, half-mad, potentially violent man with muscular dystrophy, a passion for life and a capacity for startling and even wisdom-filled lucidity that the buttoned-down Masters half-envied. His book about Stuart, an attempt to understand how this potentially brilliant man went off the rails, has been dramatised by Jack Thorne and staged by Mark Rosenblatt. The result, despite a bravura performance by Fraser Ayres as Stuart and strong support by the rest of the cast, is too romanticised a hagiography to be fully satisfying as biography or drama. The play completely accepts Alexander's mix of admiration and envy, giving it overtones of such Peter Shaffer plays as Equus and Amadeus, and by accepting Alexander's conviction that there must be one single simple explanation for the man, avoids the potentially more interesting question of what all this says about Alexander himself. To his credit, Peter Ayres does try to inject an element of danger and ugliness into his portrayal of Stuart even though Will Adamsdale's Alexander tries his hardest not to see it. Had the real Alexander in his book or the adaptors of the stage version been more willing to question the accuracy or reliability of his judgements (as Peter Shaffer does in the plays I mentioned), this would be more textured as drama and as psychological portrait. Gerald Berkowitz

The System  Just The Tonic@The Caves    ****
After breaking out of jail, a trio of convicts are on the run. Spurred on by the enforced intimacy of their hiding place, they share the miscarriages of justice that put them in prison. Like a Canterbury Tales mash-up, there’s lashings of comedy, tragedy and satire which all adds up to an engrossing comment on South African society of today. This five-hander from Soweto-based African Tree applies a powerful blast of modern physicality to a traditional poor theatre framework where each escapee gets the chance to tell their story in their own way, as the rest of the cast not only play the supporting characters but also the background noise, furniture, vehicles and other props. The injustice dealt to the protagonists also reflects general injustices as themes of female and ethnic inequality are raised. Kgosana Thekwana’s script is zippy and topical at the same time but fails to top and tail the tales structurally. Director Alex Motswiri takes this in his stride by racking the already energetic cast several notches higher while ensuring that the ensemble work maintains an enviable precision throughout. Nick Awde

Tangram  Pleasance Dome     ****
This is a dance programme with balls. Several of them, actually – white tennis-size balls that play multiple roles in the choreography of Cristiana Casadio and Stefan Sing. Lined up on the floor, the balls form a wall between the performers, in a circle they create a cage that transforms Casadio into a bird, piled in a pyramid they offer a model of balance and unbalance that reflects the dancers, juggled they're just nice to watch. Casadio's remarkable suppleness and Sing's juggling skills enable the physical objects to shape the space and the dancers' bodies around them. A recurring trope of the choreography is for Sing's manipulation of a ball – rolling, tossing, bouncing – to be mirrored inventively and beautifully in Casadio's movements, another is for them to fight comically for possession of a ball and therefore control over each other. At an hour, the piece is not at all too long, but it does have trouble sustaining coherence or narrative, and is best enjoyed as a string of independent solos and duets loosely connected by a common thread.  Gerald Berkowitz

Tea at 5  Space@Surgeon's Hall      ****
Five O’Clock, and as always it’s teatime for Katharine Hepburn, a habit from her upperclass Connecticut upbringing. But aged 36, as we discover in Matthew Lombardo’s zippy play, the four-time Oscar winner is stuck firmly at home, bereft of roles and bemoaning her new status as box-office poison. Her thoughts are regularly interrupted by the phone as she awaits news of whether she gets the part of Scarlett O’Hara, and she barks instructions at her agent, her bank manager and her playwright younger brother. Fast forward to teatime with the doyenne now 76, still wracked with insecurities and facing the onset of Parkinson’s. The roles have vanished again but she has control – resisting Warren Beatty’s daily attempts to woo her back to the screen – while none of that trademark caustic wit has faded. Meg Lloyd wisely avoids the impressionist’s approach and concentrates instead on capturing the star’s inner personality with wicked conviction, effortlessly making the transition to old age by voice alone. Sensitively guided by Richard Bunn and Bex Phillips’ precise direction, Lloyd ranges from the poignancy of 27 years as the ‘other woman’ in Spencer Tracy’s life to cattily staring out at Stephen Sondheim through a New York window, in the process finding a deeper resonance with the lifelong sacrifices that career women still have to make today.  Nick Awde

That Is All You Need To Know  Zoo Southside     ****
The story of the Bletchley Park codebreakers and their contribution to the war has been documented and dramatised before, but the young company Idle Motion give it new resonances through inventive staging and by presenting its story in parallel with two others, the breaking of the silence in the 1970s and the 1990s campaign to save the decaying site from demolition. The latter two bring out the production's most touching new revelations, that those who kept the secret lived for decades under the shadow of the suspicion that they had not done their part in the war effort, and that saving Bletchley was very much the work of ardent amateurs who deserve the nation's thanks. The company-created production flows easily back and forth through the decades, using props and sets that adapt to new forms as needed, and inventively employing projections to set scenes and contribute to mood. A briefcase or sheet of paper being held by a Bletchley secretary will have a date briefly projected on it, while the handkerchiefs with which women wave goodbye to their men become the screens on which film of the departing men appears. The cast of six all play multiple roles, with Nicholas Pitt as 1970s memorialist Gordon Welchman and Sophie Cullen as a no-nonsense member of the preservation committee standing out.  Gerald Berkowitz

This Side Of Paradise  Summerhall     ***
Taking inspiration from video games and Heart of Darkness where 'war-torn mutants play a de-humanised war game', this is one of those physical pieces which runs more like an installation than a theatre piece. The immersive action unravels across two former veterinary demonstration rooms, ie where they examine sick animals and dissect dead ones. What transpires in the first surgery-like chamber, filled with natural light, is loosely devised around the space, where a looming figure rummages menacingly in cupboards for chemical bottles and surgical implements before an ominously expectant gurney. Human-sized white larva-like mutants writhe at our feet. Into the next room, darkened this time, where the larvae are now black and uncoiling into action like creations from New Weird writer China Mieville’s sci-fi horror. Humanoids appear, a machine-like larva appears and a grimly violent power play is played out. Then back to the light in Room No 1 where the menacing DIY surgeon finally gets to play grisly doctors and nurses. The piece is played out by an energetic cast performing admirably given the imposing knitted stuffed costumes they’re working inside. With more pointers in director Clea Wallis’ movement, plus greater attention paid to the use of Charlotte Strang-Moran’s lighting and Fabiana Galante’s driving soundtrack to push the narrative into clearer focus with the action, this will achieve even more impact.  Nick Awde

The Three Lions  Pleasance     *****
A polished, witty and thoroughly entertaining comedy, William Gaminara's imagining of the British effort to win the hosting of the 2018 World Cup has something for everyone – political satire, celebrity caricature, clever dialogue and even trousers-around-the-ankles farce. Gaminara shows us David Cameron, David Beckham and Prince William in Switzerland preparing for some behind-the-scenes lobbying and open formal speechmaking to win FIFA votes. (For those who have short memories or don't care, Russia won.) There are conventions to this sort of thing – there's going to be some sort of hotel mix-up, there will be some Coalition jokes, Cameron will have an inept assistant, there will be a comic waiter – and Gaminara touches all the bases in amusing ways. And we would be disappointed if Beckham and William weren't cartoons, the one a dim clotheshorse, the other a dim Hooray Henry. The play delivers here as well, but with some twists – Sean Browne's Beckham may be an idiot, but he has total recall of every game he's played, while Tom Davey's William displays an unexpected flair for practical jokes. Dugald Bruce-Lockhart carries much of the plot and the comedy as Cameron, and admirably doesn't stop at mere impersonation, creating a comic figure of well-meaning level-headedness when things go right and slow-burn-to-explosive frustration when they don't. With nice support from Alice Bailey-Johnson as the hapless PA and Ravi Aujla as an eager-to-please waiter, Three Lions is several levels above typical Fringe fare in polish and quality, and clearly destined for life beyond Edinburgh. 
Gerald Berkowitz

The Three Little Pigs  Assembly      ****
Making a familiar epithet literal, this inventive three-man show from South Africa presents its police as actual pigs. The press are vultures, a Justice Ministry investigator is a chicken, an informer is a rat, and a Russian Mafia kingpin is the Big Bad Wolf. Far from being cute, the barnyard characterisations underscore the ugliness of this story of violence, murder and police brutality, particularly appropriate to a country all too familiar with all three. Two pigs have been murdered, and while the Ministry investigators are sure the culprit is a higher-up in the police trying to prevent exposure of his corruption, the third pig brother suspects the wolf. Three actors – Rob van Vuuren, James Cairns and Albert Pretorius – play multiple animal roles each, creating instant characterisations that are both familiar film noir figures and inventively beastly commentary on them. Though the mode inevitably generates a lot of mugging and broad acting, the larger-than-life playing is appropriate to the genre and to the play's implicit criticism of real-world South African policing, and is both entertaining in itself and a clever way of packaging subversive social criticism in a deceptively light guise. 
  Gerald Berkowitz

Threeway  Pleasance     ****
We’ve all seen the cuddly movies about swapping bodies with kids, hot babes or dogs. Well, DC Jackon’s intelligent fast-paced satire goes one better with a triple transfer after a sex session between (vaguely) consenting adults, and somehow manages to give sexism, racism, porn and relationships a serious look underneath the body-swap farce. Attractive and slick, Mark (Joe Dixon) turns up at the flat of Julie (Gabriel Quigley) and Andrew (Brian Ferguson), booked over the internet to join the nervous but curious couple in their first ever night of “pansexual” experimentation. The morning after, however, the hapless threesome wake up in each other's bodies, and shock soon leads to confusion, recrimination and self-doubt. Once it sinks in that they're not hallucinating, there’s a frantic rush to figure out how to send each other out to the outside world without being rumbled. Phillip Breen does a good job but makes odd direction choices, such as allowing each body to keep the same accent regardless of who is inhabiting it – this creates initial confusion over who is who and affects pace, meaning the play threatens to run out of steam. So it's fortunate that this impressive cast works generously with each other to create and evolve two characters apiece, while skilfully juggling the interactions sparked by the fact that the Mark, Julie and Andrew have also got mentally naked with each other. Funny, sad, inventive, this comedy will find more-than-consenting partners wherever it goes.  Nick Awde

[title of show]  Assembly Checkpoint     ****
If there was ever such a thing as an assertively modest musical, a musical that wore its modesty with pride, it's this Broadway import, a small-scale musical written by two guys about two guys writing a small-scale musical. It's so self-referential it constantly threatens to disappear up its own tweeness, and yet it's undeniably charming, like an eager-to-please puppy dog, and if you park your cynicism at the door you can have a really good time. Hunter Bell (book) and Jeff Bowen (songs) present us with two buddies named Hunter and Jeff (originally played by Bell and Bowen) who, with nothing better to do, set out to win a musical-writing competition. Aided by gal-pals Susan and Heidi (originally played by actresses named Susan and Heidi), they fill out application forms (song: Filling Out The Form), study old musicals to try to find a formula (song: Monkeys and Playbills), fantasise about success (song: The Tony Awards Song), struggle with the dynamics of the collaboration (song: What Kind Of Girl Is She?) and actually do some writing (song: Change It, Don't Change It). You get the idea. Jeff Bowen's songs are generally pleasant if unmemorable, with occasional echoes (and one in-joke direct quotation) of Jonathan Larson and Rent, and the Edinburgh cast – Ricky Johnston, Robbie Towns, Carley Stenson and Jamie Lee Pike – are attractive. You'll enjoy it but, with the exception of the one really first-rate song, Nine People's Favorite Thing, you'll forget it on your way out of the building. 
  Gerald Berkowitz

Tourniquet 2013    Summerhall     *****
Dissonant drones, three naked people (two women and one man), a water-filled bath, a rotating beam, edgy lighting, no words. Visionary inspiration perhaps, but one would have thought there’s not much you can do with all this after ten minutes or so. But one would be wrong. Abbatoir Ferme's creation is breathtaking. Each time the beam of the set’s centrepiece, a huge Sisyphean Persian wheel, is pushed around, the plot knot tightens and the scenes take on new intensity and meaning as the lifeblood becomes cut off with each turn. With hindsight, the apron and rubber gloves by the bathtub betray the show's trajectory into the dark side. Cinematographic imagery subtly pervades, with references in every throwaway gesture and languid action, and like a satanic Night Porter or Eraserhead, a narrative unravels, veering from the absurd to the unsettling as the trio become compelling spectres of themselves as realities overlap and power plays interweave, their bodies adding visual vocabulary to the narrative palette. The actors run with Stef Lernous’ precise direction to create a remarkable balance of tension and pace throughout. Then there is Kreng’s score, a series of shifting notes and found street sounds in which lurks a powerful beat allowing action and mood to pivot on a penny. Clearly not for all audiences, this remains a masterpiece of theatre that remains imprinted in the mind.  Nick Awde

Track 3  Bedlam     *****
A couple of years ago Theatre Movement Bazaar turned Chekhov's Uncle Vanya inside-out and found the essence of the play in four men and a piece of music. Their take on The Three Sisters may not be quite as remarkable, but only by their own very high standards could it be judged wanting. The adaptation by Tina Kronis and Richard Alger retains all the Russian references – they still dream of Moscow – but filters everything through a 21st-century American sensibility. These are no longer provincials with few opportunities – as someone says, 'Nobody's stopping you. All you have to do is leave.' – so it is absolutely clear that it is the sisters' own psychological and emotional blocks that are limiting them. Irina is an airheaded princess who has never had a serious or coherent thought in her life, Olga has settled too quickly and comfortably into the role of old maid, and Masha has enough passion to fall in love but not enough to do anything about it. Meanwhile the narrative, essentially an efficient condensation of Chekhov's text, is repeatedly punctuated by telling and mood-setting bursts of music and choreography. The entry to Irina's birthday party is literally a cakewalk, the exotic excitement of Moscow is signalled by a Latin beat and Vershunin struts in like Travolta to the BeeGees. Under Tina Kronis's direction the cast admirably hit and sustain a level of ensemble commitment to the production's eclectic style that is itself a delight to watch. 
Gerald Berkowitz

The Trench  Pleasance     *****   (reviewed at a previous Festival)
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

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

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Voluntary Departure   Underbelly Bristo Square   ***
Some time in the near future, government official Jerry pops into a small enterprise selling services to facilitate an easy death for those seeking it. Briskly but affably, Peta explains the options on offer and allays her customer's concerns about procedure and red tape. What starts as a gentle farce about assisted suicide turns into a clever, probing satire on life in a benign totalitarian state - one not so distant from the way ours might go. Peta's good-natured questioning of Jerry's motives reveals more of this world, a post-WikiLeaks society where everyone is an informer to protect the state. There's a neat undercurrent of tension - is he, isn't he a real spy, and for that matter is she? Bart Vanlaere and Louise Seyffert masterfully create slow burners of characters, working irony into the polemic and the emotions provoked in both of them by the Damoclean choice over Jerry’s son's actions that have led him here. At a fringe where easy-on-the-eye devised plays tend to grab the stars and headlines, Vagabond take a stand for content over concept – delivered here by writer David Moreland. Production-wise, however, a lot more could be polished without overstraining the budget, while director Andrew Dallmeyer needs a rethink on his linear direction in order to fully capture the potential of these two powerful performers. Nick Awde

We, Object   Spaces@Surgeon's Hall       *
This is an ironic postmodern deconstruction of revue, which is to say that it is not funny. Not at all. No way. The cast of five women repeatedly set up what might at best be weak jokes, like a slide show of playground slides, and then drain them of any value through inept presentation. A running gag built on the supposed mis-hearing of wee objects might rouse a mild smile the first time, but they beat it to death as if deliberately to demonstrate how not to get a laugh. Pouring blue fluid into a menstrual pad is not funny or witty or a feminist statement any more than repeatedly taking off their white boiler suits to reveal white boiler suits beneath is. An interminable sequence has one pretend to play a glass harp to recorded music while the others pontificate on unmarried woman, and another has something – I'm not sure what, as they mangled it – to do with the Mona Lisa's underwear. Stretched out as all this is, they still pad the hour even further with several patches of elementary line dancing, and eventually they even turn to that universally acknowledged signifier of comic desperation, the whoopie cushion. They'll say this is all deliberate and a sophisticated comment on the art form, but the final word on this show is the final thing said in the show: 'Thinking of something unexpected is quite hard, so we've got nothing'. 
Gerald Berkowitz

We Will Be Free   Assembly Rooms   **
The story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, six working men framed, convicted and transported for attempting to organise an early union in 1834, is turned into a folk operetta in this two-hander by Neil Gore. Gore and Elizabeth Eves take on the guise of a local amateur company performing for local audiences, and within that frame provide all the music (much of it drawn from 19th-century sources) and narration, she playing the wife of one of the convicted men and he Everyone Else. In a way the production defies criticism, since any failings in performance or storytelling can be excused as part of the amateurs' awkwardness and the production's folksy friendliness. But even so, the illusion of lack-of-polish requires more disguised polish than Gore and Eves give it here, and there are too many uncomfortable pauses or low-energy line readings. The show is already booked on a six-month tour of community centres, welfare clubs and local theatres, and a cynic might wonder if they've decided this is 'good enough for the provinces.' It isn't, and co-directors Louise Townsend and Richard Stone need to return to this show to tighten and sharpen the performances. 
  Gerald Berkowitz

The Weaver   EICC   ****
A perfect introduction to Edinburgh’s first Brazilian theatre season, A Caixa do Elefante’s exquisite portrait of a weaver with magic powers is a visual tapestry that impresses at every level. Be it movement, illusion, puppets or music, the wordless detail is as breathtaking as its emotional power. The tale unfolds in a setting of Vermeer vividness and Caravaggio chiascuro, where our lonely weaver playfully weaves songbirds and dancing balls of wool. Her imagination leads to ever bolder creations and soon she finds herself faced with a tall dark stranger of her own making – and an unlikely romance blossoms. Director Paulo Balardim has created a world where humans and puppets mix convincingly, producing a string of surprises as inventiveness builds with the story. Slipping in and out of mediums has the neat effect of objects viewed in different light at the drop of a hat – a chair at one point is an illusionist’s food-laden table while the next it is a mime’s celebration of pregnancy. Caroline Garcia Valquiria Cardoso and Viviana Schames use the challenge of this demanding piece to showcase their own skills, which they achieve with an enviable lightness of touch. Meanwhile, Nico Nicolaiewsky’s witty score punctuates and verbalises every nuance and expertly drives the pace.  Nick Awde

Where The White Stops   Underbelly  ****
The inventive young company Antler create and present a lovely little myth, but their ability to stage inventive and evocative images is stronger than their mastery of simple storytelling, and the show is weakened by leaping over too much necessary exposition and leaving too many loose ends. Still, it is easier for richly imaginative artists to master narrative than for good storytellers with no theatrical sense to make their neat narratives come alive, and this company's achievements outweigh their limitations. The tale is of an adventurous girl in an Arctic landscape determined to brave her culture's taboos and the threat of monsters to seek out a fabled land of greenery. She encounters a variety of characters, good and evil, on her journey, and some of the narrative problems arise from their being introduced without sufficient backstory or dropped without sufficient resolution. But the pleasures of the hour come from inventive bits of staging – the way some fluttering scarves evoke a windstorm, for example – and the warm portrait of the girl and her relationships with some of her new-found friends.  Gerald Berkowitz

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit   Summerhall   **  (reviewed at a previous Festival)
Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour requires that at each performance his script be handed to a different actor who has not seen it before, so that the first sight-reading before an audience will gain in immediacy and reality what it might lose in polish. The script itself offers a string of easily-decoded political fables, one about the repression of woman through the hijab, one about society's instinctive hatred of the superior or independent, and one about the culpability of those who allow the crimes of others. The presentation of these stories involves calling individual audience members, not necessarily volunteers, onstage and making them act like rabbits or otherwise look silly, the whole supposedly cushioned by repeated saccharine exhortations to 'Dear Actor' and 'Dear Audience'. The identity and performance of the actor is really irrelevant (though the one I saw, while occasionally stumbling over his lines, did try to get into the spirit of what he was reading), as indeed is the whole theatrical context. Soleimanpour has written an essay describing in code the repressions of Iranian culture, and he might just as easily have shaped it as a letter to a journal or an online blog. Gerald Berkowitz

Who's Afraid of Rachel Roberts?   Assembly Roxy  ***
The hard-drinking, foul-mouthed Welsh actress Rachel Roberts would probably have been celebrated for her wildness like Richard Burton or Oliver Reed had she been a man, but as a woman she was just considered embarrassing and unreliable. Despite several excellent film performances in the 1950s and 1960s she was – and still is, if remembered at all – best known as one of Rex Harrison's wives. And as seen by Helen Griffin, who co-wrote this solo show with Dave Ainsworth, that marriage was the defining life event to Roberts as well. Found on a hungover morning that will end in yet another suicide attempt, Griffin's Roberts loved Harrison at first sight, gave up everything to be his wife, sentimentalises their marriage despite the constant fighting, resents the divorce and his subsequent happiness, and still carries a torch for him. Little else in her life – mention of some satisfying roles, anecdotes of Peter Ustinov, Terrence Rattigan and others, her several Bafta awards – really registers with her, though they may be the glimpses into the woman and her times that most interest audiences. Griffin bravely presents Roberts at her lowest ebb, more drunken harridan than faded star, without a hint of glamour, and it is much to the credit of her performance that Roberts remains interesting and sympathetic.  Gerald Berkowitz.


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

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Reviews - Edinburgh Festival - 2013