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 The Theatreguide.London Reviews

EDINBURGH FESTIVAL AND FRINGE 2015

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 will cover 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 another page and M-Z here.


Scroll down this page for our review of  

The Man Called Monkhouse, Man To Man, Marriage, Me As A Penguin, La Merda, Miss Sarah, Molly, My Name Is Saoirse, 1972 The Future Of Sex,

An Oak Tree, Of Mice And Men, One Day When We Were Young, One Fine Day, The Origin Of Species, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, The Overcoat, Oxford Revue,

Pardon/In Cuffs, Pirates and Mermaids, A Play A Pie And A Pint, Police Cops, The Quentin Dentin Show, Rape of Lucrece, Raz, Rebounding Hail, Ross And Rachel,

Siro-A, So It Goes, Some Big Some Bang, Spectre Town, Spillikin, Storm In A Teacup, Sunset Five,

10X10X10, Timmy Failure, The Titanic Orchestra, Tonight With Donny Stixx, Tony's Last Tape, Touched By Fire, Trans Scripts, Trash Test Dummies, 12/10/15,

Umrao The Noble Courtesan,  The Unknown Soldier, Unmythable, Pip Utton,

Wasted, We This Way, What Would Spock Do, White Rabbit Red Rabbit, Willie And Sebastian, Wilting In Reverse, The Wonderful Discovery Of Witches

Go to First A-L Edinburgh Page

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The Man Called Monkhouse   Assembly Hall  ***
Bob Monkhouse, eh? The David Frost of light entertainment who for decades seemed to be everywhere, with his orange tan and limitless supply of instant quips. There can be few entertainers who both divided and united the nation, as he himself admits it in this fact-packed monologue. It's 1995 and we meet Monkhouse, who is now in his 60s. He is in his study, worrying whether two files of his jokes – famously nicked from his briefcase in real life – have been recovered by the police. It’s a device that links straight into him telling us how he became a writer post-war, before starring in film comedies, followed by decades of presenting game shows on prime-time TV. Revelations about his more personal life are triggered as he delivers an elegy for his writing partner Dennis Goodwin after his suicide. The patter turns darker but still gets the laughs as his introspection grows and the comic legend ponders how his one-liners and slick manner made him the nation’s epitome of insincerity and smarminess. The Man Called Monkhouse is a well-executed example of a dead comic play, where Simon Cartwright captures Monkhouse’s infectious voice and mannerisms so uncannily that you feel you really are in the room with him – he even does his own warm-up. What's missing in Alex Lowe’s slick script, however, is any meaningful dramatic context which leaves director Bob Golding with little to do, and leaves us with the red herring of missing jokes and a disjointed memoir shoehorned into 70 minutes. If you grew up with Monkhouse, there's nothing new here – and if you didn’t, there's nothing to grab you. Still, Cartwright delivers a remarkable portrayal that has a huge guaranteed audience.  Nick Awde

Man To Man   Underbelly Topside  *****
When her husband dies in pre-war Germany, a woman disguises herself and takes over his identity, at first just to keep his job, but as the century progresses because in every period it is easier for a man to get by than a woman. Manfred Karge's play, here adapted and brought up to date – or at least past the fall of communism – by Alexandra Wood, is thus both an individual story of survival and a social history of twentieth-century Germany. Alone onstage, Margaret Ann Bain gives a bravura performance as the woman stifling, fighting and perhaps even losing her female identity as she travels from youth to a crochety old curmudgeon. But the real power of this revival comes in the production, particularly the set design of Richard Kent and lighting by Rick Fisher, that change the atmosphere and seem to physically reshape the stage through darkness and shadows, to meet the needs of each scene and reflect the shadowy existence of Ella/Max. Video projections by Andrzej Goulding are used sparingly but tellingly, as when Ella briefly gives way to her longing for a child and casts a shadow of mother and babe. As strong as Bain's performance is, it is the visual images of the play that will linger.  Gerald Berkowitz

Marriage   Assembly      ****
If you are going to go Russian and go for the laughs, go Gogol. Which is exactly what this group of comedians have done with Marriage, his 1842 satire of manners. This is the one that plays on society’s pomposities by racking up a gallery of aspirational bourgeois types playing the nuptials game, with Ditto's version lacing the situational comedy with left-field one-liners and portrayals to die for. Set in Victorian times, it has been decided that dippy Agafya needs a husband, eagerly catered for by a scraggy matchmaker, while her disapproving aunt has a nice greengrocer by the name of Sainsbury in mind instead. Cue an oddball line of suitors jostling to tie Agafya’s knot – a pompous auditor, a lecherous ex-militaryman and a most boring man of means. Hoping to pip them to the post is a dippy taxman aided and abetted in the winning of Agafya’s heart by his best mate, secretly desperate to land his single mate into marital lock-down like him, as all the while a manservant/maidservant hovers over them all with bemusement. Headed by Celeste Dring and Ben Clark as the hapless Agafya and her beau, this is as near perfect casting and as generous an ensemble as you will ever see – each putting in inspired performances that are as dramatic as they are comic, all riding on Tom Parry’s flawless script. Director Russell Bolam harnesses it all with a disciplined beat throughout, while leaving the cast oodles of space to ham it up. Flesh it out a bit more, keep the rest as it is, and this is eminently West End-able.   Nick Awde

Me, As A Penguin   Space On The Mile     *
Sometimes an acting company can get too close to their production to know how good it is or even what it is. It was after seeing Eleventh Hour Theatre's play that I read their promotional flyer. It has the expected hyperbole ('hilarious new comedy', etc.) but it also describes the play and characters in ways that simply do not match what's there on stage in simple factual ways. The flyer says the central character is a 'professional knitter' with 'obsessions for outrageous knitting patterns' and what we see is him idly knitting in one scene. The flyer says he meets 'a sexually voracious penguin' but in the play he impulsively kidnaps a baby penguin from the zoo and keeps it in the bathtub. I'm not going to beat this dead horse (or penguin) any further except to wonder if this disjoint explains how blank the actual play is. The knitter - and it's not even clear that the play is about him - shares a flat with a couple expecting a baby imminently. He's gay – we know that because he's played very effeminately – but that seems to have nothing to do with anything else. The single joke in the 40 minutes comes when he locks the stolen penguin in the bathroom and his roommates both need the loo. Eventually the baby is born, the penguin dies (I think) and he decides to move out and give the new family more room. The complete absence of any point (or humour) to this seems to have escaped the company in their evident faith that they were doing the other and more successful play on their flyer.  Gerald Berkowitz
La Merda   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

Miss Sarah   Zoo     ****
Deep in the Australian outback, Sarah (Ella Cook) has gone walkabout in an unsettlingly modern way. Instead of magical animals, spirits and shamans bearing wisdom and replenishment she's dodging trucks and dehydrating rapidly in the scorching heat. She's also wearing fairy wings and is evidently on some sort of personal quest. She ends up hitching a ride with a stranger (Jordan Gallaway), a surly but seemingly decent enough type with a beaten-up old Ute on his way to pick up work somewhere in the north. You want to shout out and warn her, but first you'd have to check why she's out there in the first place. Cut to home, where her father (Adam Trussell) and aunt (Lily Newbury-Freeman) are playing the blame game, fuelled by their anxiety over the missing girl. Punctuated by an old TV set that flickers from white noise to public appeal broadcasts and home movie footage, we piece together why Sarah’s on the road – and why she won’t turn back. Written by Cook, Miss Sarah is a deceptively simple piece of new writing where this focused cast get under the skins of characters that come ready formed with all their quirks and tensions nailed in the tight dialogue. Add to this director Angus Wilkinson’s stylishly sparse setting, and you’re firmly in post-Sam Shepard territory, where edgy atmosphere drives the narrative and there’s an undercurrent of physicality that subliminally drives the tension. Nick Awde

Molly   Pleasance     *****
On of the top shows of this year's Fringe, this new play from Squint is a chilling portrait of sociopathic evil wrapped in a tightly directed physical production. We follow the title character from childhood, where she responds to a bit of schoolyard bullying by mastering the art of bullying herself, using her wits, total lack of moral restraint and sheer force of personality to manipulate and humiliate others, more for the pleasure of doing it than for any particular gain. It isn't until as an adult she encounters others who can play the game as well as she that her confidence is broken and she is driven to extreme revenge. The story is told in the context of a sort of astral game show in which a panel force her to relive her memories. This frame is never really explained – psychiatrists? lawyers? agents of God? - but they have been directed, almost choreographed, in tightly physical patterns of movement that drive the play forward and generate a lot of theatrical energy in themselves. At the centre actress Lizzie Clarke gives a totally dedicated performance, laying bare Molly's darkest qualities without (as some actresses would be tempted to do) protecting herself by retaining some warmth or attractiveness. But you will be equally impressed by the other four in the cast – Geoff Arnold, Rhys Isaac-Jones, Fran Regis and Louisa Roberts – and by the direction of Andrew Whyment, who co-wrote this fascinating and emotionally draining play with Lee Anderson and Adam Foster.   Gerald Berkowitz


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My Name Is Saoirse   Assembly Hall      ***  (reviewed at a previous Festival)
Set in Ireland in the late 80s, an unassuming girl comes of age. By her own admission, Saoirse is of little talent and her life is uneventful and, except for her attractive wayward mate Siobhan, there’s not much around to lead her astray. With every year she grows older and, though surrounded by family, friends and community, she’s floating through life yet enjoying it in her own quiet way. That vulnerability exposes her to the teenage influence of Siobhan who is turning from precocious schoolgirl into party-loving school-leaver. And so Saoirse just seems to fall into getting pregnant and then taking the UK ferry for a secret abortion in London – remember that Ireland was even more draconian on abortion than it is today. Performing her own script, Eva O'Connor plays out a gentle monologue that boldly avoids excess or moralising and is all the more powerful for it. She brings it to life with spot-on depictions of characters such as the feisty if louche Siobhan and the laid-back Northern Irish nurse at the clinic. What lets things down, however, is Hildegard Ryan’s direction, which is solo show done by numbers, limited to shifting otherwise static actor from point A to point B every five minutes. Saoirse’s awkwardness becomes, well, just awkward and unfairly restrains O’Connor’s central narrator – for proof one need only witness how she lights up in the rare moments when she is permitted to move while speaking, offering a glimpse of the real potential of this promising production. Nick Awde

1972: The Future Of Sex   Zoo    *****
An overexcited announcer declares that it's the Swinging Seventies and kids are doing it all over the place, but the row of awkward yearning teenagers lined up across the stage suggests otherwise. The Wardrobe Ensemble's company-created work assures us that sex was as confusing and conflicting for young people in 1972 as it was for those before and after them. A girl tries to prepare for losing her virginity by studying a porn film, only to be confused further. A university lecturer seduces a student and finds that she is more sexually sophisticated and demanding than expected. A mousy girl meets a beautiful one and discovers life-changing love, while a gay boy ventures no further out of the closet than the lonely privacy of his bedroom. The performers present these tales with high energy and a sense of absurdity that tempers their sometimes dark tones, each actor moving instantly from principal of one episode to narrator or voice of secret thoughts in the next, while yearning, anticipation and sex itself are represented by witty and expressive choreography. At times this wholly professional production has the attractive feel of a really clever student or even schools theatre project, which I intend as the highest praise.  Gerald Berkowitz

An Oak Tree   Traverse     ***
This is a prismatic work that splits what is happening before you in two and forces you to watch both simultaneously. As such it may strike you as fascinating, resonant, confusing, boring or just a self-congratulating gimmick. One story is the encounter between a man whose child was killed in an automobile accident and the driver who killed her. The other is a metatheatrical experiment in which playwright Tim Crouch plays the driver and a different actor plays the father at every performance, without having seen the script in advance. The inner story is about how two men seek release from their separate agonies. The outer one is about whether the actor will be able to pull it off. In practice, of course, most of the audience pay little attention to the inner story, waiting for the actor to fall on his face or just fascinated by the way Crouch manipulates him, alternately whispering cues, handing over a page of script, giving instructions through earphones or openly saying 'Now you say . . . .' Sometimes Crouch adds another dimension by casting an actress as the father, and at this particular performance Aoife Duffin, after some preliminary awkwardness, was able to find the character and bring impressive and unexpected depth of feeling to her seen-for-the-first-time lines. The inner story is actually well written, with effectively defined characters and resonant metaphors, and could probably stand on its own. Ultimately, though, An Oak Tree never escapes the 'Oh how clever I am' gimmickry that trivialises rather than enhancing it.  Gerald Berkowitz

Of Mice And Men   Gilded Balloon     ***
John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men is a gift of a story that effortlessly lends itself to the stage with its depiction of the relationship between a pair of mismatched migrant farm workers as they drift in search of work in Depression-era California. It is a tale that is as touching as it is tragic, and here Nigel Miles-Thomas’ adaption condenses things into a two-hander where the banter of the itinerant Lennie and George evokes their world and the fateful characters they meet. It is the harsh vagaries of that world – unemployment, prejudice, jealousy, greed – that sticks them together and defines what has become an iconic friendship, notable for its rituals – Lennie forces George to tell again and again the dream of the ranch they will buy, while George is forever chiding Lennie for his penchant for soft animals and killing them with love. This is a well thought-out adaptation from Nigel Miles-Thomas, who is also responsible for the sensitive direction. He also plays the gentle man-mountain Lennie, looming over the diminutive figure of George, played by Michael Roy Andrew, whose quick mind is held back by a lack of education and his protective feelings for his friend. Both inhabit their characters convincingly and their understated approach is all the more emotional for it.  Nick Awde

One Day When We Were Young   Assembly    ***
Best known for his love-story-meets-string-theory romance Constellations, playwright Nick Payne treads considerably more conventional ground in this bittersweet tale of love and loss. Young Leonard and Violet are met first in a sweetly comic scene as virgins stealing a night of passion before he goes off to the Second World War. About twenty years later we discover that she didn't wait for him as she promised and their lives have moved in very different directions with unresolved feelings on both sides. I make no apology for that small plot spoiler because while you might not guess every turn the plot is going to take, none of it will particularly surprise, so the third scene, perhaps another thirty years down the line, will either be a satisfying way to bring things to a close or a little too mechanical and predictable. Unsurprisingly, Valorie Curry and Sam Underwood are most convincing in the first scene, capturing a mix of desire and embarrassment that is endearing, while they are too evidently working harder at finding the middle aged and elderly versions of the same characters.  Gerald Berkowitz

One Fine Day   Assembly Hall    ***
Kicking off the first half of this double-bill from Korea's physical theatre company EDx2, Modern Feeling explores the relationship between two men. They start on chairs where disconcertingly one touches the other's knee. Equally disconcertingly, the other's knee oscillates at the touch. This sparks off a sequence of reaction and counter-reactions that document a surreal tale marked by rubbery joints, interlocking limbs and magnetic repulsion/attraction. They are joined onstage later for the second piece, What We’ve Lost. Here the evident energy of the company is harnessed to create the potential for play by young people in the streets and playgrounds. Centrepiece is the routine with an invisible ball – its imagined bouncing all over the space creates natural, constantly changing combinations for the dancers while concept-wise it unifies this ragtag of youthful characters. Despite there being a strong commitment to establishing a narrative for each piece, in neither case does it follow through to a conclusion, petering out as the movement arc develops. Nevertheless, getting there is fun and the pieces complement each other in mood and style, backed by an emotive soundtrack ranging from Ryuichi Sakamoto to Jordi Savall. Choreographer Insoo Lee shows how to keep things tight but loose at the same time. The contemporary routines flow into each other without interrupting the energy, ebbing and flowing in intensity, breaking into hip hop, martial arts or ballet. The young company work effortlessly and with a precision that impresses.  Nick Awde

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

Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour   Traverse     ***
This is a one-joke show. It's a good, if not particularly original joke, but it gets used up in the first five minutes and the play has little to do but mark time for the next hour and a half. That may actually not bother you, and there is every reason to think that the National Theatre of Scotland have a hit here. Playwright Lee Hall and director Vicky Featherstone adeptly disguise the fact that nothing is actually happening, so you may not even notice that the show hasn't really gone anywhere since the beginning. Based on Alan Warner's novel The Sopranos, Lee Hall's script follows six girls from a Catholic school in Oban to a choir competition in Edinburgh. And here's the joke: turned loose the night before the competition, the owners of those angelic hymn-singing voices are randy, foul-mouthed, hard-drinking catty trollops looking to get as drunk as possible as quickly as possible and to shag anything in sight. During the night some will get laid, some will get sick, all will get drunk and that's really it. One girl will lose her virginity, one will announce she's pregnant, one will declare her love and desire for another – each of these side stories treated with respect and sympathy. But aside from hangovers and an odd sense of liberation – they are certainly going to be expelled, and now don't have to pretend to be Good Girls anymore – they leave the play pretty much where they entered it. The text incorporates a lot of music, as the girls sing to represent what they're hearing on radios and jukeboxes during the night, and one of the show's unquestioned pleasures is some excellent a capella and do-wop harmonies. The show is fun and should be a crowd-pleaser. But if you only saw any random ten minutes of it, you would have seen the whole thing. Gerald Berkowitz

The Overcoat   Summerhall     *
In place of an advertised adaptation of Gogol's story, which was listed in the programme and featured on all their posters, Korea's Brush Theatre offer a slight children's fable built on elementary multimedia effects. Trying to stop her father from leaving for work, a young girl pulls at his jacket and unravels a thread. It then becomes a versatile plaything, especially when it moves from physical form to an animation on the big screen behind her. From cats cradle to tug of war to jump rope to woolly elephant, it keeps her entertained until daddy comes home. The device of human-animation interaction is as old as the earliest silent films, and I first saw it employed on a stage at the New York World's Fair of 1964, even then in a much more sophisticated form than Korea's Brush Theatre come up with here. Many other theatre companies, including some at previous Edinburgh Fringes and at least one other this year (See our review of Siro-A), have utilised the gimmick more inventively, surprisingly and delightfully than Brush Theatre do in this imaginatively limited and slow-moving show. The live performers have some strained charm, and the elementary animations might amuse children for a while, although The Overcoat is labelled PG (evidently a carryover from the show they were supposed to be doing), and not many children are likely to see it. Meanwhile any adult who has ever seen an example of this bit of stage magic has seen it done better.   Gerald Berkowitz

Oxford Revue   Assembly     ****
In the unofficial Oxbridge revue competition this year. Oxford edges past Cambridge, but just barely. Neither revue is of legendary stature, but the three guys who make up the Oxford team have more sketches that work than don't, and enough that are laugh-out-loud funny to carry them over the inevitable weak bits. The guiding premise of the show is that each of them has a hobby horse to ride, an approach to comedy that they keep trying to impose on the others. One wants the show to be political and keeps trying to inject social comment, one is convinced that specific topical references to his home town are guaranteed laughs (After all, they work when he tells them there), and one has a single joke that he determinedly keeps trying variants on, sure that it will eventually work. On these running gags, which are funny in themselves, the trio hang a collection of set pieces that either have original premises (the sarcastic robot) or work unexpected twists on familiar premises (writing a Eurovision song). A teenager's attempt at writing social commentary is followed by a teenager's attempt at writing erotica, and if the psychiatrist who wants to be a stand-up comic doesn't work, the posh guy trying to hide his class does.  Gerald Berkowitz


Pardon/In Cuffs   Traverse     **
Less a play than a theme-and-variations montage, this hour from the Belgian theatre company SkaGeN presents a string of brief encounters between prosecutors and criminals sitting across a table in pre-trial interrogations. As the three actors – Valentijn Dhaenens, Korneel Hamers, Clara van den Broek – rotate roles in various pairings, we see in turn a petty thief, drug addict, political protester, wife beater, shoplifter, illegal alien and so on. Most are humble, a couple defiant, a few repentant. The prosecutors are variously sympathetic, unsympathetic, antagonistic and bored. The point lies in the unending string of such pairings as the gears of an impersonal justice machine grind on, but the first of several problems with this as a theatre piece is that that point gets made very quickly, and then can only be made again and again and again, with no real elaboration or enrichment after the first several minutes of the one-hour script. Meanwhile the production is punctuated by what appear to be gratuitous oddities. The hour opens with the actors humming a Christmas carol, and the one woman in the cast is incongruously dressed throughout in an evening gown. A couple of characters have unexplained and un-commented-on seizures, while others lapse into gibberish, slow motion, simulated sex or violence. Whatever meaning these interpolations are meant to have is lost in an opaque and private symbolic vocabulary, leaving you with the suspicion they might be there just to give us something other than two people at a table to look at. There was an interesting concept here, but concept and a successful hour of theatre are not the same thing. Gerald Berkowitz

Pirates and Mermaids 
Scottish Storytelling Centre
    *****  (reviewed at a previous Festival)
An Edinburgh garden stands in for New York's Central Park in this spellbinding tale devised by performer Jeremiah Reynolds and director Sandy Thomson. 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

A Play, A Pie And A Pint: Conflict In Court    LeMonde Hotel       ***
This venerable lunchtime Fringe institution does indeed include food and drink in the ticket price, along with a setting in a somewhat posher hotel space than the usual Fringe venue. This year's play is a timely courtroom drama, with a Tory MP suing a tabloid newspaper for libel over a story accusing him of spending a night with a rent boy. With volunteers from the audience in the jury box, barristers for both sides question the politician and the editor, followed by questioning from the jury, which requires some ad libbing in character from the witnesses. Then the jury is polled, and on this particular day they went with the MP. To keep things lively there's a certain amount of courtroom humour between the lawyers and judge, and inevitably there's a surprise witness and a last minute after-the-verdict confession. Characterisations throughout are deliberately just this side of cartoonish, to keep the energy level up and the tone light, and a large audience, of a significantly higher median age than is typical of the Fringe, have an enjoyable break in the middle of their day.  Gerald Berkowitz

Police Cops    Zoo Southside       *****
The opening shot is a kid cradling his dying brother in a dark city street with the tearful promise that that he’ll become a police cop, the best. Cue police academy, rookie beat, curmudgeonly partner, the first case. Thrills, spills, betrayal and a father complex ensue in this rollercoaster parody. Will the partners survive the pressure? What new perversion will the station captain reveal? What’s the connection with The Simpsons? And who is the evil Mexican cat? Between them, Zachary Hunt, Nathan Parkinson and Tom Turner, armed with nothing but enviable stamina and a box or two of manky props, somehow concatenate a thousand 70s police movie/TV plotlines, back stories, through stories and subplots. Milking every cliche in the manual, each spoofed villain, cop or civilian seems to have a troubled past, most sport moustaches and everyone has a hat. You’ve seen this sort of thing a million times before, so what makes this show so special? Well, for a start the writing hits an impressive high as trashy exploitation goes, yet there chugs under it a fully fledged script with a solid arc that allows the trio to develop a gallery of throwaway characters into convincing, plot-driven portrayals while still earning the laughs. They’re a supremely generous ensemble too, putting in supercharged performances with a (possibly unintended) physicality that puts them firmly in Total Theatre territory. And their connection with the audience is unbeatable.  Nick Awde

The Quentin Dentin Show    The Space On Niddry Street        ***
A normal couple are hitting normal doldrums in their otherwise loving relationship. She works hard at the office while he stays at home writing a book he will never finish. But just as things really start to turn downward, the radio is suddenly crackling eerily and something very odd is coming through the ether. That something is Quentin Dentin, like a supernatural game show host, come to save them from dullness and to offer them their dreams. Aided and abetted by his two equally strange assistants and a sinister voice from the radio, Quentin makes the hapless couple an offer they cannot refuse of hope, therapy and, better still, songs. Will they find happiness thanks to Quentin? And is that a suspiciously Faustian contract we spy in his hand? The Quentin Dentin Show is an engaging show that zips along with humour and energy. Although it has all the hallmarks of a musical, it is lopsided, since Quentin gets most of the songs – not that there are many. It also needs more characters to give the couple a context, rather than allowing the plot to be shunted along in unwieldy jolts triggered by Quentin’s interventions. The energetic ensemble are more actors than singers, while there is a wonderfully tight four-piece band. The songs are well arranged, catchy and, unusually for the fringe, delivered with lyrics you can actually hear. There is a lot of promise, but director Hannah Elsy and author/composer Henry Carpenter need to sit down post-Edinburgh to do the structural reworking it needs and to polish those performances. With that on board, the show deserves to find new audiences.  Nick Awde


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The Rape of Lucrece    Assembly Hall        *****    (reviewed at a previous Festival)
Early in his career, William Shakespeare published a couple of book-length poems, exercises in narrative and poetic style. This one retells the story of a lustful Roman emperor who had his way with a general's virtuous wife, and what followed from that. In reciting it, Gerard Logan begins slowly and unpromisingly, his posh accent and plummy delivery threatening an hour of lovely but empty sounds. But once the story gets going and he can take us into both the dramatic moment and the minds of the characters, Logan's delivery comes fully alive and fully engrossing. We're with the rapist as he pauses before the bedroom door for one last consideration of what this will do to his sense of his own honour, and with the victim as her attacker lays out the horrifying picture of his 'or else'. Aided by his very fine scriptwriter, Logan catches all the subtleties in the situation and characterisation – the resentment of the victim that is part of the rapist's passion, the irony that the victim's fear of dishonour is greater than the criminal's, the high drama of the moment she reports the crime. Much credit must be shared with director Gareth Armstrong, master monologist himself, who has guided Logan to make a fully dramatic and theatrical event out of this material, and The Rape of Lucrece is likely to be one of the fastest, most engrossing hours you will spend at the Fringe. Gerald Berkowitz

Raz   Assembly      ****
Raz is a characteristic work by Jim Cartwright, the poetic chronicler of working class Northern life. The 50 minute monologue is delivered by the playwright's son James as Shane, a lad if ever there was one. He tells us in gloriously gory detail about a typical Friday night for himself and his rabble-rousing peers. Having got through the tedium of the working week in a dull manual job, Shane is up for a very expensive few hours of hedonistic, intoxicated pleasure. Along the way, we meet his hopeless pals, witness the compulsory assignation with a drug dealer and see Shane and company gradually getting off their faces. This is all amusing, if rather depressing as girls and guys collapse under the influence and try to pair off without suffering too much embarrassment or unfortunate consequences as a result. The piece gains a little more depth when Shane finds himself closer than is comfortable to an ex who has only recently left him and found an alternative. Raz is slickly written and all too credible a demonstration of how youthful Britain spends Friday nights in a desperate effort to forget the blandness of the previous five days. Philip Fisher

Rebounding Hail   Underbelly      ***
A girl wanders and wonders among towering stacks of books. As she opens their pages, characters leap out and play key scenes around her, yet a voice in her head forces her to close the covers each time things start to get interesting – and, the voice reminds her, there is one book she must never open. Devised by young company Disparat Theater, countless characters riff their way through an eclectic selection of classics. A grog-wielding seaman jumps out of the pages of Billy Budd, Gandalf from The Silmarillion gets all dramatic, society-aware niceties emerge from Emma Brown. As the voice tells the girl not to fear that the stories will ever end, the mystery deepens and we suspect she is caught in a literary Pandora's box. It's a canny concept and the sparkling ensemble of Robyn Grant, Avital Lvova, Federico Moro, Matthew Staite and Richard Weston, centred around Holly Kilpatrick as the Girl, make the most of it, enacting elaborate costume drama scenes one moment, haring around the books in acrobatic mayhem the next or bursting into song. There’s good premise and promise in equal measure – but a lot of work remains to be done. Devised from a physical direction this may be, but diction across the board needs to be sorted, particularly given the literary focus. More precision is also required in gesture and movement technique in order to keep up the pace and narrative. Sort this and Rebounding Hail deserves to go further.  Nick Awde

Ross And Rachel   Assembly      *****
A striking tour de force of a performance by Molly Vevers electrifies an original and thought-provoking script by James Fritz in this hour of concentrated dramatic energy. The two characters Vevers plays are the perfect couple, the one their friends always hoped would get together and have admired and envied ever since. Yes, they had their ups and downs, but they so obviously belong together that they've become a unit in people's minds, a single entity with an 'and' in the middle of its name. But while he loves this unity, she has moments of wavering. Why doesn't anyone ever think of her except as part of the 'and' entity? Why do all e-mails and invitations for the both of them only come to him? And why does she get second billing? Then, when their lives take a darker turn and he considers ending it all, just how far is she expected to go in the name of togetherness? Playing both roles, Molly Vevers has to generate a kind of manic schizophrenia, challenging and arguing with herself and jumping back and forth between voices sometimes one word at a time. It's a performance of immense concentration and bottled energy, deservedly an award-winner. But along with admiration for the actress you are likely to come away thinking and arguing about the ideas and implications of Fritz's play.  Gerald Berkowitz

Siro-A   Assembly      *****
Brilliantly innovative and literally dazzling, this Japanese company bring high technology to stage performances a quantum leap more intensely and inventively than anyone else. To oversimplify (because they work innumerable variations on the pattern), the live dancers perform in front of screens whose projected animations create stage magic. Multiple and multicoloured shadows follow the performers around. Projected images move with them on small screens they carry and move around. Door-sized panels provide filmed dancers to double the cast, while the live performers, crossing behind the panels, turn into film versions of themselves before reappearing on the other side. Kaleidoscope images almost overpower the senses as they accompany high energy dancing. A salute to favourite films has a live jedi synchronised with an animated light sabre or a stationary Spiderman seem to swoop through animated buildings behind him. Before the show Siro-A invite audience members to pose for photos in various poses, and the way these are animated so that the whole house seems to be dancing along with the performers is both jaw-droppingly magical and joyfully delightful. Not for those who can't handle flashing lights, loud music or one theatrical thrill piled on another without pause, but for anyone prepared for sensory overload, this is an unmatchable delight. Gerald Berkowitz

So It Goes   Underbelly      ****   (reviewed at a previous Festival)
When her father died, Hannah Moss found it difficult to talk about her feelings or him, and so now that he is the subject of her new play, inability to speak becomes a central metaphor. Moss and co-creator David Ralfe act entirely in mime, aided by inter-titles either preprinted or written on the spot. Both wear small whiteboards which they regularly write on and erase, setting scenes and carrying on conversations without a sound. The story they tell is simple and deliberately generic – a daughter's memories of her beloved, sometimes silly, sometimes embarrassing (as when he danced) daddy, who became sick and then very sick and then not there any more. The inherent pathos of the story is balanced by the inventiveness of the presentation and by Moss's cheery smile throughout, reassuring us that the author-actress has survived and recovered from her deepest pain. But, with no director credited, the piece could benefit from some tightening, the forward movement delayed not just by the need to write everything but by a tendency to extend scenes longer than is necessary to produce their effect.  Gerald Berkowitz

Some Big Some Bang   Underbelly      *
Elena is pregnant but Tom doesn't care. Tom is grieving for his mother but Elena doesn't care. Will and Anya come for dinner. Everyone criticises everyone else's choice of clothes. Tom, Will and Anya gang up on Elena because, they say, she is ugly but uses makeup to disguise that fact. Elena gives birth on the dining room table. Tom wrestles with a chair. Tom rejects the baby because she's not beautiful, and locks her in a cabinet. Elena locks herself in her room. Tom crawls under the table. Anya takes off her dress and half puts on another. Will asks Elena to run off with him. Anya asks Tom to run off with her. Tom kills the baby (I think). Anya squeezes an orange. Will eats a flower. Nobody runs off with anybody. Some of the dialogue is self-consciously gnomic, trying to imply deeper meanings. Some sounds as if it was translated from some other language by Google. Somewhere in here are hints of a play about love or self-image or prejudice or something. One sympathises with the actors.  Gerald Berkowitz

SpectreTown   Assembly Hall    **
It helps significantly in watching Elspeth Turner's drama if you can follow rapid and frequently poetical dialogue in a thick Scots dialect. You are more likely to be able to keep up with all the plot turns and nuances in the tale of a rural boy and girl who seem destined to haunt each other's lives, or perhaps, as the possibility is left ambiguous, two separate couples several generations apart whose lives take on uncanny parallels. One of the couples (or the one couple at an early stage) are rural farmworkers waiting until he gets a promotion to marry. The others (or the same couple a few years later) are in a city, working in a shop while he awaits a promotion and she moonlights as a sex worker. An unpopular kirk, a secret society of horsemen, a static-filled old tape recording and the girl's interfering mother play complicating roles in one part of the story or the other. An onstage musician, a jumping about in chronology, a tendency to play scenes in the dark or heavy shadows, and that uncertainty about just how many stories we're being told, all contribute to the atmosphere if not the narrative clarity. There may be an excellent play in here, but it has been made accessible to too few in the audience.  Gerald Berkowitz

Spillikin: A Love Story   Pleasance Dome      ****
Pipeline Theatre offers not one but two lovely little rom-com stories in this play by Jon Welch, but audiences will remember it primarily because of a prop. An elderly woman slipping into dementia is a widow, though she doesn't fully realise it. Her husband was a brilliant pioneer in artificial intelligence and robotics, and his dying gift was a robot filled with his memories to keep her company. She begins to confuse the machine with the man, and as a strangely believable warmth develops between them they sing together, play games and reminisce. This leads to a string of flashbacks in which we see the story of how husband and wife met, which is a second sweet little fable of the shy nerdy teenager and the pretty girl who is as surprised as he when she finds herself drawn to him. Either story alone might be enough to carry a short play, and here they resonate against each other in attractive and heart-warming ways. With the playwright directing, there are excellent performances all around, not least by the robot, an actual mechanical construction who usually works as a museum host.  Gerald Berkowitz

Storm In A Teacup   Spotlites@Merchants' Hall      **   (reviewed in London)
This hour of mime and clowning by the young company Hot Coals Theatre is, unfortunately, not an effective showcase for either their inventiveness as writers or their skills as performers. Ostensibly inspired by The Three Sisters, the piece's only connection to Chekhov is that the characters are named Olga, Masha and Irena. For no particular reason one has a putty Cyrano nose, another buck teeth and the third a fat suit. They're old ladies, perhaps sisters, about to be evicted from their house and resisting attempts to move them to a retirement home. Until a man-the-barricades climax, that plot line doesn't really drive the evening, which is made up of a string of independent and in-no-particular-order episodes, almost entirely in mime in the mode (though not on the level) of Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean, and generally structured so that the women take turns falling asleep in pairs while the third does something comic. Inevitably there are a few bright moments, but too many of the set pieces are either over-extended beyond any comic power or just unfunny. The mime scenes are punctuated by a string of telephone calls, which they take on a half-dozen phones from different eras, generally from telemarketers or the social worker trying to rehouse them. (The single best joke of the hour comes in a call from the retirement home, offering the enticement of their activities: 'crocheting . . . horseback riding . . . speed dating . . .') There might be enough comic material here for a ten or fifteen minute sketch, but even then it would require tighter direction and performers with more natural instinct as clowns and technical ability as mimes.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Sunset Five   Pleasance Dome    ****
In DugOut Theatre's good-spirited spoof of caper movies, the members of a local pub quiz team, each a specialist in a different area, make a natural Mission Impossible style squad (We're talking the old TV series here) when they decide to rob the evil property developer who threatens their pub. So the newspaper reporter researches the property blueprints, the computer nerd hacks the security system, and so on. Of course they're amateurs, and so nothing goes as smoothly as on TV – they keep forgetting their code names, for example. But the whole thing is done in such good spirits and high spirits, with none of the cynicism almost inhering in caper films, that we just go along with it, confident that it will all work out in the end, if only by the most unlikely means. It helps that the script by Tom Black and Sadie Spencer is full of good jokes and attractive characters, and that it is all set to a jolly country-and-western musical beat, the members of the cast playing several instruments each and singing backup when they're not – and sometimes when they are – acting.  Gerald Berkowitz


10X10X10
  Pleasance
  ***

To celebrate its tenth anniversary, the Comedians Theatre Company – which, as the name implies, gives stand-up comics the opportunity to act – commissioned ten comedians to write five-minute solo pieces to be performed by ten other comedians, presented in two alternating five-set shows. Got that? Anyway, their Show Number Two is inevitably uneven in quality, and interestingly diverse in nature. Steve Keyworth's comic account of a colonoscopy, performed by Seymour Mace, plays like a typical stand-up routine, while Dave Florez' monologue of a boy (Ivo Graham) proud of his ability to identify any make and model of car by its taillights and Catherine Harvey's piece about a woman (Sajeela Kershi) auditioning to be the new host of Top Gear have the feel of sketch show set pieces. The only monologues with any hint of character depth or seriousness are Brendan Dempsey's portrait of a woman (Diane Spencer) who understands why she is now ready, as she hadn't been before, for motherhood, and Jane Walker's monologue that until a comic twist presents Jo Caulfield as a woman seriously upset about her man's straying. Neither the experiment of comedian-writers nor comedian-performers seems to add much to an adequate but not exceptional hour.  Gerald Berkowitz

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made    Assembly   ****
Young Timmy Failure neglects his schoolwork because his true occupation as a detective is far more important. He may not be very good at his job, as the Case of The Missing Halloween Candy suggests when he misses the significance of all the sweet wrappers in little brother's room. But he is unflaggingly enthusiastic, and when his mother's Segway (Why does his mother have a Segway, you ask? Don't.) goes missing, he's on the case. Leander Deeny acts out the tale adapted from Stephan Pastis' picture book with infectious and unflagging high energy and a sense of the silly that children respond to. Clever cartoon projections and captions, along with deliberately low-tech music effects, help set and sustain the tone as Deeny plays not just Timmy but a half-dozen other characters and a polar bear (Don't ask.) Audience participation ranges from helping him with his uncooperative props and costumes to putting someone's dad in a silly wig, and there's even a moral of sorts, about getting your homework done first. Kids love both the broad slapstick and the clever wordplay, while adults can appreciate the inventiveness and skill of both author and performer as they enjoy watching their children enjoying the show.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Titanic Orchestra   Pleasance   **
An attempted blend of ghost story, comedy and philosophical speculation is hampered by murky writing, tentative performances and paceless direction. Seen a week into its run, this much-anticipated production feels too much like a very early rehearsal of a script wanting one more rewrite. An impoverished foursome squatting in an abandoned railroad station are visited by a man claiming to be Harry Houdini. He does prove adept at both sleight of hand magic and a kind of hypnotism, giving each of them a glimpse of their heart's desire, before taking them all aboard an illusionary train to argue that, Matrix-like, all of life is an illusion. But the result of their believing him is separation and individual isolation that leaves them worse off than before, suggesting that his motivation was from the start demonic. Steve King's adaptation of Hristo Boytchev's script changes direction on whether illusion is good or reality even exists too abruptly and a few too many times for audiences to keep up with, while the writing itself gets increasingly lifeless as it gets more metaphysical. Meanwhile Russell Bolam's direction is slow and rhythmless, too often leaving the actors stranded onstage as if waiting for something to happen. Only one or two of the actors are able to sketch in characterisations, and even star John Hannah can't give much reality to a character that never transcends generic Mysterious Stranger.  Gerald Berkowitz

Tonight With Donny Stixx   Pleasance   *****
Sometimes the cruellest thing you can do to others is support them in unrealistic fantasies that are bound to be burst eventually. In this monologue written by Philip Ridley and performed with unrelenting intensity by Sean Michael Verey, young Donny is an unremarkable, socially inept lad who truly believes he is a charismatic and accomplished stage magician. As he recounts success after success we have little beyond the tremendous effort he is clearly spending on keeping up this self-image to cause us to question him. But then someone with his best interests sincerely in mind tells him the truth, and we and he realise together that everything he has told us – including his memories and opinions of his mother and father – has been untrue or warped beyond recognition. The discovery shocks us, but it destroys him, and Verey takes us movingly through all the stages of mental and emotional trauma that lead to a shocking climax and beyond. The hour offers a fascinating and all-too-believable study in the dangers of self-delusion, and a peerless performance by Verey that is both unflaggingly high in energy and subtly nuanced in characterisation. Gerald Berkowitz

Tony's Last Tape   Pleasance   ****
Writer Andy Barrett has chosen to mimic Samuel Beckett in this affectionate biographical portrait former Labour leader Tony Benn, directed by Giles Croft for Nottingham Playhouse. Indeed, a fair amount of the stage business in Tony's Last Tape pays homage to Krapp. Tony Benn has ceded automatic recognition by his christian name in political circles to a more recent Labour politician of a significantly different hue. Even so, he should still be remembered as an important figure in the development of left wing politics during the second half of the Twentieth Century. Ironically, just when his ethos of democratic socialism seemed doomed to live on only in dusty history books we might be on the brink of its return to the limelight. Tony Benn evolved from Viscount Stansgate via Anthony Wedgwood Benn as the leading left-winger of his time. The patrician pipe-smoker with a common touch got close to the seat of power but his ideas were just a little too radical for the Labour Party, let alone the wider electorate. As such, he seems to bear direct comparison with Jeremy Corbyn who could, in a matter of weeks, lead the party and perhaps, in less than five years, the country in a new political direction. This 75 minute monologue attempts to balance the personal and the political within the Beckettian structure and largely succeeds, providing a good potted history. There is little doubt that although youngsters may never have heard of Tony Benn, with the Corbyn effect to assist, those that know of and either revere or revile the legendary politician will enjoy an informative but not overly heavy play.  Philip Fisher

Touched By Fire   Space On The Mile   ***
Immersed in the Venice Carnival, Lord Byron is torn between the temptations of fleshly debauchery and the fear that his physical and spiritual health, and therefore his ability to write and make himself immortal, are threatened. A good and evil angel appear in the forms of his loyal servant concerned for his well-being and a mysterious Scottish doctor (who may not actually exist) offering the further temptations of opium. Annie James's play nicely captures the torment of an artist who sincerely wants to do great work and is not sure he has the discipline to achieve it. James has clearly researched her subject thoroughly, and while some of the historical and biographical material lies a little heavily on the text, the occasional echoes of Byron's poetry are smoothly integrated into the dialogue to suggest what's already floating around in his head. Director Chris Begg's choice to lead Jamie Rodden to some broad playing as Byron can be justified in the characterisation of the poet as self-consciously dramatic, though his performance then clashes with both Johnny Cameron's more realistic servant and Begg's completely over-the-top panto Scotsman.  Gerald Berkowitz


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Trans Scripts   Pleasance      ****
Identity is something that none of us should take for granted, and, as explored in Paul Lucas’ compelling play of transgender women talking about the realities and dreams of their lives, questioning the identity of others throws back more than a few universal truths for us all. Gradually, through interleaved narratives, six actresses tell their personal histories, in the process piecing together the jigsaw of their common experiences. What they don't want is your pity – what they do want is for you to listen. They commiserate with each other over being bullied as children and shunned as adults, argue the finer points of reassignment and couture, hotly debate the subject of what to add to their bodies and what to take away. Calpernia Addams, Jay Knowles, Bianca Leigh, Rebecca Root, Carolyn Michelle Smith and Catherine Fitzgerald weave around each other onstage, guided with precision by director Linda Ames Key, supremely focused on each other’s performances. The fact their voices are very New York-accented means the non-Americans in the pack inadvertently create moments of cultural clash that trip up the script, particularly when perennial US horrors crop up, such as the threats of life-threatening violence or the crippling levels of medical bills. Nevertheless, never once descending into sentimentality, they take you on a journey that celebrates their own differences from each other – here you’ll meet glamorous and sassy of course, but also frumpy and even suspiciously goth. And diversity such as this is precisely their point.  Nick Awde

Trash Test Dummies   Underbelly Circus Hub      ****
It is high-fives whizzing around the entire front row as this cheeky trio from Australia bounce on to kick off a show that looks at the funny side of trash. Cue an ever inventive string of routines such as wheelie bin musical chairs, slo-mo bag dance, broom ballet and acrobatics to the strains of Frank Sinatra. There are thrills, slight spills and laughs aplenty. Garbed in dustman's dungarees and colourful hard hats, Jamie Bretman, Jack Coleman and Simon Wright deliver in oodles with infectious enthusiasm. Admittedly with the added close-up of the stage frame, things occasionally come across more as street theatre, but the nonsense language for dialogue and setting up of contrasting characters delineates the mini-plots and elevates the humour to a truly universal level. There is also an impressive connection between the cast and the audience – just take the gloriously bizarre sight of all of the kids loudly volunteering to take an about-to-explode bomb off the hands of the panicking threesome – and the constant laughs and oohs from every age in the house came to a hugely-deserved roar of approval at the end.   Nick Awde

12.10.15   Momentum Venues      ****
Two condemned cells, 2,500 miles and 100 years apart. Today, a war correspondent paces the grimy room in which she has been held since her kidnapping. The negotiations haven't worked out and she knows that her life will soon end. This is the price she must pay for her bold reporting on the conflict in Syria – and to judge from the way her agency’s spiked her stories for their realism, there’s no posthumous Pulitzer prize in the pipeline. In Belgium a century ago the nurse Edith Cavell awaits the firing squad at dawn, condemned by the Germans to be shot for aiding Allied soldiers. Her death is likewise the consequence of her actions, but she will be hailed as a heroine and her dignity and even confidence in the worth of her acts give her comfort. In this thought-provoking, engrossing one-woman play by Clive Holland, Mary Rose gives an intense performance while cleverly contrasting the two personalities and their very different worlds. Meanwhile, director Mary Swan works in a subtle physicality to create a multi-layered overlapping duet for solo performer that opens up immense emotional – yet never sentimental – depths. It's a slow starter but once the characters start to kick in, it becomes a powerful moral debate, almost a duel, as time runs out for the reporter and Cavell. With more attention paid to pacing within the script itself, this can become a five-star show that deserves to share its message with a wider audience.  Nick Awde

Umrao - The Noble Courtesan   Assembly   **
In nineteenth century India a girl is kidnapped and sold to a brothel where, over time, she becomes adept in all the courtesan arts, especially the not explicitly sexual skills of singing, dancing, reciting poetry and engaging in the almost Japanese-like formal rituals of flirting. After some romantic ups and downs she becomes both a canny businesswoman and an admired poet and performer, ending up as mistress of that same brothel, which has been transformed into something more resembling a profitable literary salon. The stage version of this tale, by Simon Mundy and director Vasilios Arabos, has some inventive touches, like casting two actresses in the central role to underline the changes in her, while onstage musicians contribute significantly to the atmosphere. But the performances show wide fluctuations in quality. The several dance and mime sequences illustrating Umrao's mastery of her art or otherwise contributing to the exotic tone are polished and evocative, but dialogue scenes are marred by wooden or exaggerated acting by several key cast members that does not meet even generous Fringe standards. Gerald Berkowitz

The Unknown Soldier   Spotlites   ***
Writer-performer Ross Ericson finds a new way to address the moral obscenity that was the ordinary soldier's experience of the First World War by giving voice to a figure little acknowledged in the history books, a member of the military brigade that stayed on in France and Belgium for several years after the Armistice to recover bodies and body parts, identify them if possible, and give them honourable burial or reburial. The simple fact of his existence, with the reminder that the war wasn't over when it was over, generates a powerful dramatic shock, as do both the horror stories he can tell and the casual way he can tell them. As directed by Michelle Yim, Ericson's sensitively controlled performance allows the man's repressed pain and rage to slowly overpower his calm and reserve until a flashback to the madness of battle shatters any illusions of there being anything noble about fighting or dying for one's country. And yet Ericson's vision is not entirely negative. The dramatic occasion for the speaker's monologue is the assignment to select a body at random to be the Unknown Warrior honoured in Westminster Abbey, and his way of doing the job demonstrates just where true honour and loyalty survived. This is a simple piece, but one whose originality, sincerity and quietly powerful performance make it stand out. Gerald Berkowitz

Unmythable   Pleasance Dome   ****
I am a sucker for the kind of comic show in which two or three guys attempt to tell a grandiose story, the gap between ambition and achievement being part of the fun. Temple Theatre work an original and delightful twist on the genre by having the three guys actually succeed, generating surprise and delight of a new sort. Paul O'Mahony, Rob Castell and Troels Hagen Findsen play Jason of Argonaut fame and two of his crew who, in the process of telling of their adventure, repeatedly digress to cover just about every Greek myth from Achilles' heel to Zeus's zoological amours. Every one of the tales is told comically and inventively but accurately, making for one delight after another, and the whole thing is coloured by a Christmas Panto air that has the audience talking back or cheering on cue. One sequence involves quick changes as actors playing multiple roles must converse with themselves, another inspires some rap. There's a Les Mis-style anthem and a hilariously still scene set inside the Trojan horse. If I have any criticism at all it is that part of the fun of the genre lies in almost-out-of-control speed, and the company take their time exploring and enjoying the comic potential of each myth. But they find so much that this isn't really much of a complaint at all.   Gerald Berkowitz

Pip Utton - Playing Maggie   Assembly Rooms   *****
Fringe veteran and master of the self-written character monologue, Pip Utton lifts the genre onto a new plane with his embodiment of Margaret Thatcher by flying without a net or, in this case, a script. After a conventional opening during which Utton plays a fictional actor preparing for and beginning a performance as Thatcher, he stops and announces that he would rather take questions from the audience, and proceeds to ad lib the rest of the hour, in all cases answering as Thatcher in convincing guesses at what she would have said. Granted that some likely questions could be anticipated and prepared for in advance, Utton has clearly done a massive amount of research on the lady's words and thoughts and organised it in his mind so that the appropriate thing to say about the Falklands, the poll tax, the miners, David Cameron or whatever surprise question comes up is quickly accessible. So thoroughly has Utton absorbed the politician's way of thinking that even when he deflects a question into one he'd rather answer, or when you can sense him vamping for a few seconds until his brain retrieves the proper file, it is exactly the way the Iron Lady would have done it. A remarkable piece of research and memory combines with Utton's signature talent for becoming his character even when, as here, he does not physically resemble her, to create an evocative, provocative and altogether fascinating hour.  Gerald Berkowitz

Wasted   Gilded Balloon   ***
A judge recently ruled that it could be rape even if the woman consented, if she was too drunk or otherwise incapacitated to give informed consent. But how drunk is too drunk? In Kat Woods' play a couple were both so drunk last night that neither can remember what happened. But there probably was sex, and the girl's best mate convinces her to talk to the police, and soon the wheels of justice grind all ambiguities under them. Playwright and company are to be commended for taking on this thorny subject, and for resisting any impulse to make it merely one-sided propaganda. Both central characters are presented as essentially good kids who probably did some stupid things that night but are neither criminal nor zealot. But the play ultimately doesn't do full justice to its topic. Will Merrick and Serena Jennings play not only the central couple but everyone else, from friends to family to cops, and while this provides an excellent showcase for their versatility, it also keeps them from getting very deep into the two characters we want and need to understand better. And playwright-director Woods tries to have it both ways, climaxing the dialogue with an impassioned argument against the ambiguity and therefore inherent unfairness of the new rules, only to follow with a flashback that suggests that justice is really being done.  Gerald Berkowitz

We This Way   Summerhall  *
The first generation of computer games were text-based, the screen announcing, for example, that there were two doors ahead and letting you choose one, which led to another choice, and so on. Seth Kriebel puts this concept onstage as he sits at a desk and speaks his story in a flat voice, pausing repeatedly to signal us to choose the next step with the different coloured glowsticks we were issued on entry. Depending on our votes the adventure may or may not involve a train, bouncy castle, labyrinth, lighthouse, and/or mirror maze. If the choices lead to a dead end, Kriebel brings us back to the start to try again. (In theory, if an audience made all the right choices the show would be over in five minutes.) In a shorter form this gimmick might delight children, but even the most easily entertained adults must find the constant retracing of steps and the growing suspicion that any new paths aren't really all that different from previous ones increasingly tedious. As fewer and fewer glowsticks are waved, with waning enthusiasm, even Kriebel seems aware of diminishing returns, and for the last few journeys he doesn't even bother calling for votes, but just takes us through the options until he finally chooses the right route which, quite appropriately, takes us nowhere.  Gerald Berkowitz

What Would Spock Do?   Gilded Balloon   ***
A nerdy kid who loved Star Trek when even those few who would admit liking sci-fi preferred Star Wars was bullied unmercifully until he decided to give up being a fan and turn himself into a normal bloke. Now an adult, he falls for a girl who is a bigger Trekkie than he ever was, and it all comes flooding back. Can he give himself over to his secret passion or will he be embarrassed to let his blokish buddies meet her? Jon Brittain's monologue, performed here by Sam Donnelly, has much to please Trek fans but not enough to surprise them. Of course the guy will screw things up with the girl and of course there will be a last-minute turnaround, and if it happens at a Trekkie convention so much the better. Even Brittain's jokes, about Shatner's wigs and people confusing Dr. and Mr. Spock, are fifty year old reruns, and it would be unthinkable for him to get to the end without acknowledging Leonard Nimoy's death earlier this year. Directed by the author, Sam Donnelly gives an amiable and energetic performance, and the open or closet Trekkies in the audience will enjoy having their guilty pleasure validated. But there just isn't very much to the play itself.  Gerald Berkowitz

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit   Assembly   **  (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

Wild Bill - Sonnet Of A Bardstard   Space At Surgeons Hall   **
In this portrait of William Shakespeare Michael Longhi offers us a man close to madness in rage at a world that, both in his own time and afterwards, lost any sense of him in reshaping him to meet their needs. Refusing to be either the plaster saint of their bardolatry, the villain of their authorship disputes or the enigma of their inability to read him, he expresses equal contempt for all who don't understand and appreciate him as he wishes and deserves. Unfortunately Longhi's mode of conveying this mix of frustration, self-assertion and righteous anger is to play Bill as all but incoherent as he rages and rambles. Longhi the writer cleverly has Shakespeare frequently quote himself with the ease of one whose words these naturally are. But Longhi the actor makes the man have constant trouble spitting those words out, so overcome is he with passions that distort his face, contort his body and make him look like a mix of constipation and John Hurt in Alien. There is an impressive amount of energy in Longhi's performance, and a whole lot of Acting with a capital A. But without control, focus and sufficient attention to the need for simple communication, it comes out as little more than sound and fury, and all that we know that signifies.  Gerald Berkowitz

Willie and Sebastian   Gilded Balloon   ****
The 1960s and 1970s gave us a rogue’s gallery of dodgy arty types who outraged the Establishment but were loved for it because they were well-bred products of that selfsame Establishment. Writer William Donaldson and artist Sebastian Horsley, utter scoundrels both, were typical examples, being scions of wealthy families who squandered their inheritances while entrancing their public. All very rock’n’roll, really. And here we meet the pair, nearing the ends of their lives, clashing their drug-addled egos in a mighty spat over Sebastian’s swiping away of Donaldson’s glamour-model girlfriend Rachel. Ever witty, biting, scatological, Donaldson bemoans his solitude, while Sebastian crows over trouncing his old mate. Bemused, Rachel wonders whether she really needs to fend for herself as she observes her beaus wondering whether they’ll find more suitable solace in a shared crack pipe. This would be a cracking show if only for the cast’s remarkable resemblance to their real-life counterparts. Grant Stott is darkly conniving as the foppish yet hard-as-nails Sebastian, while Michelle Gallagher reveals the steely determination behind the outwardly party-girl Rachel. What makes this unmissable is Andy Gray’s tour de force performance as Donaldson – veering from emotional explosion to the subtlest of nuances, he wins us over to Donaldson’s louche outlook on life and love. Written by Rab C Nesbitt creator Ian Pattison, the script sparkles with one-liners and is a gift to director Sam Kane, who ensures the pace of comedy never dips, yet always  keeps us aware that under the bawdy grotesqueness of the arty set behaving badly lies a carefully crafted drama of an intimately human love triangle.  Nick Awde

Wilting In Reverse   Underbelly    *****
A disembodied voice backstage stumbles its way through a welcome to the show, inadvertently reading out the stage directions, backtracking on itself, apologising. Everyone laughs in the dark even before they have seen a thing. What then follows is a unique hour of shifting genres and stories where a dank, black-box cave is transported to a magical, indeterminate something somewhere else. Stuart Bowden emerges muffled in a balaclava under a sheet, all of which he takes his time in removing. By the time he stands before us with face revealed, he has unveiled the concept of the show, namely that with audience’s help he will tell the story of a futuristic him who has died. In narrating his achievements in reverse he will bring himself back to life as he becomes younger. It is a piece of eccentric, comic storytelling on the surface, a serious piece of theatremaking underneath, where Bowden sings whimsical songs, looping voice and beats, people are assigned lengthy roles, there is dance and slapstick, and even Jackanory-like passages. There is also metatheatre, comedy deconstruction and handing the script to an audience member – all good and thoughtful stuff in line with many other practitioners at the moment. What raises Wilting in Reverse many notches up is the way Bowden establishes trust between performer and audience, between what is scripted and what is actually experienced.  Nick Awde

The Wonderful Discovery Of Witches In The County Of Lancaster   Pleasance   ***
That this new play from Dawn State Theatre mixes comedy and drama poses few problems. But the fact that they're trying to be comic and dramatic about several themes at once does mean that they occasionally trip over their own feet. Still, there's more here to enjoy than to be disappointed by. In the early Seventeenth Century two sheriffs who made a name for themselves convicting and executing witches have been reduced to travelling the country putting on performances about their deeds, in the dubious name of public education. But even that gig is running dry and, a bit like the last act of Frayn's Noises Off, tensions, mutual annoyances and not particularly caring any more are beginning to be evident. So we get the serious drama of their hunting down innocent old women as witches, the comedy of their bumbling at it, the comedy of their conflicts as actors, and the serious drama of their incorporating into their act the daughter/granddaughter of the witches they executed, who is beginning to rebel against this family slander. It's the last two plot lines that work best – the petty squabbling within the company and the girl's growing outrage – but it is they that most awkwardly bump into each other, the tone constantly shifting back and forth. Still, Gareth Jandrell's script is clever, if perhaps too much so, and the three actors – Christopher Birks, Dan Nicholson and Amy Blair – navigate the changes in reality level and tone almost as well as you could wish.  Gerald Berkowitz


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

Reviews - Edinburgh Festival and Fringe 2015

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