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The Theatreguide.London Reviews


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 be covering 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.

Serendipity is one of the delights of the Festival, and the best show you see may well be one that just happens to be starting as you pass the venue. In that spirit we list all our reviews together, so you can browse and perhaps discover something beyond what you were looking for.

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Scroll down this page for our review of

Airswimming, All The Things I Lied About, Angel,  Anything That Gives Off Light, Ash, Austentatious, Be Prepared, Beyond Price, Big Bite-Size Lunch Hour, Michael Billington, Blush, Bucket List,

Cambridge Footlights, Care Takers, Cold/Warm, Company, Confessional, Counting Sheep, Cut, 

Daffodils, Diary of a Madman, Dropped, Dublin Oldschool, The Duke, Durham Revue, Every Brilliant Thing, Expensive Shit,  Fabric, Fingertips, Fossils, The Glass Menagerie, Gratiano, Greater Belfast, 

Happy Dave, He Had Hairy Hands, The Hogwallops, The Humble Heart of Komrade Krumm, I Got Superpowers For My Birthday, In Fidelity, In Tents And Purposes, Intergalactic Nemesis, In Our Hands,

Just Let The Wind Untie My Perfumed Hair,  Krapp 39, Lady Rizo, Le Bossu, Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons, Life According to Saki, Living A Little,

MacBain, Made Up, Milk, Mr Kingdom's Queen Victoria, Mr Laurel And Mr Hardy, Mrs Roosevelt Flies To London, My Eyes Wnt Dark, Nel, Nine Lives Of Saint-Exupery,

Often Onstage, Oliver Reed Wild Thing, The Other, Out Of Our Father's House, Oxford Revue, Parish Fete-ality,

Partial Nudity, A Play A Pie And A Pint, Playing Maggie, Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally, Police Cops, Queen Lear,

The Red Shed, The Remains of Tom Lehrer, Revolt She Said Revolt Again, The Road To Huntsville, 

Saturday Night Forever, Scorched, Screw Your Courage, Shake, Shakespeare For Breakfast, Shylock, Stack, Stamp, Stories To Tell In The Middle Of The Night,  Stunning The Punters, Swansong. Sweet Child Of Mine, Swivelhead,

Teatro Delusio, The Trunk, Two Man Show, The Unknown Soldier, The View From Castle Rock, Villain, White Rabbit Red Rabbit,  William Shakespeare's Long-lost First Play, The Winter Gift, Wrecked

Airswimming   Sweet Grassmarket     **
Charlotte Jones' 1997 two-hander follows the fifty year relationship of two women banished into a hospital for the criminally insane in the 1920s, evidently for little worse than difficulty coping or conforming. While showing how they slowly come to trust and eventually rely on each other, the play withholds some vital bits of information and only gradually leaks out others, deliberately leaving uncertain whether what we see is reality, hallucination, fantasy or nightmare. The challenge facing a director and actors, then, is to establish some core sense of reality for the audience to relate to while retaining some of the mystery. And it is here that director Stephanie Goodfellow and performers Tanya Chainey and Alison Nicol repeatedly stumble. While producing isolated moments of touching intimacy or beauty, Chainey and Nicol struggle to create coherent characterisations out of sometimes contradictory evidence and to guide us in navigating the fluid movement between the real and unreal. Where the playwright wanted mystery there is too often gratuitous mystification, allowing the audience to wander off into digressive speculations, like wondering how a woman cut off from the world since 1924 developed an encyclopedic knowledge of the life and works of Doris Day. With little apparent forward motion, scene after scene of the women moving in and out of reality become repetitive rather than cumulative, and the hour drags to an arbitrary stopping point rather than a satisfying ending. Gerald Berkowitz
All The Things I Lied About   Summerhall   ***
Part of me sincerely hopes that Katie Bonna's self-written performance piece is a total fiction, because that would make it an inventive way to explore a moral and psychological puzzle. Because if what she presents as part of the story of her life is true, then she is making people pay money to sit and listen to her kvetch about her father. Her father, she tells us, carried on an extramarital affair for several years and deflected his wife's suspicions by convincing her that she was paranoid if not worse. Bonna calls this 'gaslighting', after the play and film about a man driving his wife crazy, and after giving other examples from history and current news, asks how people can live with themselves doing this. Her not especially original conclusion is that they have to first gaslight themselves, convincing themselves that what they see and hear themselves doing isn't really happening, or at least can be explained away as being something innocent. Her father admitted the affair but denied the psychological manipulation, and Donald Trump simply denies ever saying what the world has him on film saying. Bonna's talk is marked by considerable wit and even more earnestness, but what comes across most, assuming it's all true, is that she really, really, really, really hates her daddy.  Gerald Berkowitz
Angel   Gilded Balloon   ***
Filipa Braganca plays Rehana AKA Angel, a girl from just on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey. While her father is wedded to the land, the youngster wants to become a lawyer. However, times change and the advent of Daesh forces her to emigrate. However, when times get really tough, Angel returns to try and save her father. Almost inevitably she is captured but miraculously escapes and becomes a guerrilla. This solo show is well acted and Henry Naylor writes impressively with poetic flourishes. The only reservation lies in plotting that is real Boy’s (Girl’s?) Own stuff, with action piled on action in a very busy hour.  Philip Fisher
Anything That Gives Off Light   Edinburgh International Conference Centre   ****
The American company The TEAM specializes in group-developed explorations of national and cultural myths, presented theatrically in boldly imaginative and energy-filled productions that are occasionally more image-loaded than coherently structured. In Anything That Gives Off Light they collaborate with the National Theatre of Scotland to create an evocative comparison of the two cultures. Set largely in a Scottish pub, it opens with a Scot who has been living in London worrying that he doesn't feel particularly Scottish any more, and his buddy who has stayed home accusing him of wilfully giving up his identity. Enter an American tourist, a divorcee from rural West Virginia happily believing that Scotland is all bagpipes and Braveheart. The guys try to educate her by acting out some real Scottish history – or, at least, the Scots' version of their own history, which she counters by correcting some of their misconceptions about America and reinforcing others. The results expose as many similarities as differences. While a sequence on how Scottish and American filmmakers might treat the same stories scores, for every account of lairds throwing crofters off their land there's one of American mining companies evicting whole towns to strip-mine. An onstage band keeps things moving and allows for a quite lovely moment of dance blending Scottish jig with Virginia reel. The piece wanders off into a generic anti-capitalism screed near the end, and generally lingers on after having made its points. But for most of its length it is entertaining and thought-provoking in equal measure.  Gerald Berkowitz

Ash   Zoo   ***
A light-hearted look at addiction might seem self-contradictory or in dubious taste, but the wit and invention employed by the young Lecoq-trained company Bric à Brac actually succeeds in being serious and humorous at the same time. Ash is set in a recent past when absolutely everybody smoked cigarettes and supposed doctors extolled their health benefits in TV adverts. Young George's mother smokes, and doesn't seriously object to the young boy's stealing her cigs. George's mother develops a cough and goes on smoking. George's mother dies of cancer and he goes on smoking. George develops a cough and goes on smoking. George gets the verdict from his doctors and goes on smoking, as do his wife and all his friends. Directed by Anna Marshall, the company of six surround the dark centre of Ash with a fluid mix of dance and choreographed movement, live music and comic manipulation of realistic and cartoonishly large cigarette packs that is entertaining in itself and tellingly evokes the wilfully self-induced denial of the smokers. There is no clash of taste or style in the juxtaposition of serious and light moments, but rather the repeated shock of recognition of how easily smokers blind themselves to what they choose not to know. Gerald Berkowitz

Austentatious   Underbelly George Square   ***   (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
A Fringe perennial, this improvisation on themes from Jane Austen is a proven crowd-pleaser. Though by its very nature an improv show is likely to be uneven, the company know their raw material and have played around with it long enough to be able to deliver. Things begin in the ticket queue, as audience members are asked to suggest titles for lost Jane Austen novels, and one is drawn out of a hat to be the basis for today's hour. I forget the exact title on this occasion, but it wound up having something to do with a dealer in addictive buns, his virtuous daughter forced into the bun trade, and a benevolent noblewoman willing to save her from that fate worse than death. It didn't have a whole lot to do with Jane Austen, but a bunch of attractive performers in Regency costume entertainingly improvised their way into corners and then generally found their way out again. I suspect that there was a certain amount of recycling of old gags and characterisations, but the jokes are good, and the company's rapport with the audience is strong enough that the stumbles and what-do-I-say-now moments are as much fun as the bits of inspired invention. You don't really have to know your pride from your prejudice to enjoy this light and delightful show. Gerald Berkowitz

Be Prepared   Underbelly   ****
Performing in his own first play, Ian Bonar creates a portrait of a man floundering in a whirl of unexpressed emotions, who begins to find his way to peace through the most unlikely of rescuers. Occasionally sitting at a table but mainly rushing about the bare stage as uncontrolled feelings drive him, the solo speaker tries to talk about the several things in his mind at once, sometimes so tongue-tied that he turns to the portable keyboard he carries to try to express his feelings in music. The strands of his story slowly separate. He was annoyed by a string of wrong number calls from a confused elderly man, and was only able to identify the caller just before he died. Inexplicably drawn to the man's funeral, he can't understand why he was so moved, especially since he didn't react so strongly to his own father's death not too long before. Of course this second death, safely enough removed from him that he can deal with it, is releasing the blocked emotions of the first, letting him mourn his father through the intermediary. Both as writer and performer Bonar guides the audience to see this before the speaker does, so that even though the man is not there yet at the end of Be Prepared, we are allowed to leave the quietly moving play with the hope that he is on his way up. Gerald Berkowitz

Beyond Price   Summerhall   ***
Actor-writer-thinker and Fringe veteran Jack Klaff speaks for an hour on subjects ranging from art and money through Apartheid and the Nuremberg trials to his 96-year-old mother and whether he might have been an Olympic swimmer if South Africa hadn't been banned from the games. This stream of consciousness starts with his being invited last year to help brainstorm the Summerhall programs for this year and next, which produced, along with an anniversaries catalogue of everything that ever happened in a year ending in -6, a very sharp awareness of what Summerhall or the companies being considered could afford, and thus an increased appreciation of the interconnection of art and money. But Klaff's is a magpie mind, and one thought is as likely to lead sideways to a digression as forward to the next logical idea. Following him can be fascinating and frustrating in equal measures, because some of the side-trips, like those inspiring perfect mimicry of Mandela, Scofield, Brando and others, are at least as interesting as his main points, and far too few of either sort seem to reach their conclusion. Not a theatrical event in any usual sense, this might be the keynote speech of a theatre conference, given by a distinguished veteran disinclined to stick to his prepared script. Or it might just be some white-haired old guy with a loud voice rambling on. Gerald Berkowitz
Big Bite-Size Lunch Hour   Pleasance Dome   ****
It has been ten years since this company first assembled a program of very short plays and brought them to Edinburgh as the Big Bite-Size Breakfast, and to celebrate the anniversary they have added this lunchtime show of Greatest Hits, five complete and self-contained little plays out of their repertoire. Inevitably, some of them have the feel of slightly extended revue sketches, like Philip Linsdell's 'Quiet Table For Four', in which a nervous couple on a blind date are tormented by another pair of actors playing the inner voices out to destroy their confidence. 'Big Fish, Little Fish' by Joel Jones does actually go on a little too long, stretching its single joke of a film noir private eye parody too thin; and probably the weakest of the pieces, Lucy Kaufman's 'Vintage', about a couple who choose to live as if it was 1942, doesn't have much of a joke to begin with. But Joel Jones's 'Answer Man', about a woman encountering the fount of all knowledge and wisdom and not really knowing what to ask, is clever, funny and thought-provoking; and C J Johnson's 'Boris The Rottweiler' achieves surprising depth and emotional resonance as a dog reasons out his behaviour, good and bad, in terms of a very human-sounding sense of honour.  Gerald Berkowitz

Michael Billington   Edinburgh Book Festival
To commemorate the publication of the paperback version of The 101 Greatest Plays, the leading British theatre critic of his day made an appearance at the Edinburgh Book Festival. He was interviewed by Joyce McMillan of The Scotsman and author of a recent book herself, Theatre in Scotland. Bringing together the leading lights of English and Scottish theatre criticism was a shrewd move on the part of the organisers, as the pair sparked off each other for a delightful hour before a packed audience, who delivered as intelligent a set of questions as one could hope for at such an event. Billington explained the genesis of this book, which was no more than the germ of an idea before a lunch with his editor, who had it approved for publication almost overnight. The format and title were then honed into the current version, with assistance from friends including Lady Antonia Fraser. Much of the lively, and sometimes even mildly disputatious, conversation related to the selection process, which was proudly subjective and the rights and wrongs of those included and neglected. In particular, Billington identified the need for moral conflict as a prerequisite for a play to be timeless. Joyce McMillan had her own views and seemed offended by the lack of women and ethnic minorities but also the inclusion of The Real Thing. Billington himself raised the King Lear controversy, suggesting that the play wasn’t good enough to make the final cut but also admitting that having more than seven plays by the Bard would have unbalanced the book. One of the questions related to the neglect of any devised work and uncovered a preference from the Guardian’s eminence grise (of 45 years standing) for text-based plays written by a single individual. Most in the audience seemed to be in thrall to the two critical heavyweights and a long queue to get books signed after the event extended well beyond the bounds of the signing tent. Philip Fisher
Blush   Underbelly   ***
Charlotte Josephine is a real talent as both writer and actress. She has spread her wings this year to write a piece featuring four major characters with Daniel Foxsmith playing the two men. The subject matter is up to date and significant, considering the perils of Internet porn from differing viewpoints. The play opens as an angry woman rages about her sister aged 18, who has gone nakedly viral after a boyfriend posted a photo. We then follow the two women before, during and after the event. The men are a family guy who appears to be addicted to porn and a hotshot budding entrepreneur who behaves badly across the pond. The issues are important so it is disappointing that despite capable (and often much better) acting, the stories and characterisation are confused and confusing. Philip Fisher
Bucket List   Pleasance Dome   ****
Theatre Ad Infinitum have built a strong reputation and anyone seeing Bucket List will understand why. An all-female crew of actors and musicians relate a fable with wit and bite, not to mention a touch of Hamlet’s influence. The starting point is ex-President Clinton’s announcement of the NAFTA, a free trade agreement that would wreck the Mexican economy, while boosting that of the United States. The focus then moves to Mexico, where Vicky Araico Casas as Milagros watches first as her activist mother is murdered and then her aunt goes the same way, following a protest to the police after a rape. The 11-year-old seeks vengeance against five key figures on both the local and global stages. In a deeply symbolic way, her medium for achieving this is chess. In this, she is assisted by an inspirational American teacher/aid worker played by Deborah Pugh. By the time that she is 15, Mila is terminally ill, having contracted cancer from industrial effluents that, it is hinted, are a by-product of NAFTA, and her project takes on new urgency. Using physical theatre techniques and an attractive soundtrack, the story moves from dirty realism into low level fantasy to reach a deeply uplifting, if unlikely, ending.  Philip Fisher

Cambridge Footlights   Assembly Roxy   ****
While this year's Oxford Revue is the worst in decades, Cambridge is having a good year. The line-up includes everything from conventional comic sketches (the ways a surprise party can go wrong) through the surreal (how to create the sound effect of knocking coconut halves together). The feuding ABBA sketch may be out of an old file and the conkers sketch need a better ending, but the little kids talking like adults are inspired and the accents challenge is a real winner. Very high good-to-merely-OK average, with no real losers, and real value for money.  Gerald Berkowitz

Care Takers  C Chambers Street     *****
Billy Cowan's powerful and engrossing hour achieves the goal of every drama of ideas, making the impassioned debate of issues theatrically alive. And as his own director Cowan also draws from his two performers that most difficult of characterizations, of honourable and well-intentioned people whose imperfections keep them from being as purely good as they want to be. An idealistic young teacher comes to her deputy head with the concern that one of her students is being bullied. The older woman counsels playing by the book, keeping an eye on the situation but not intervening prematurely. Over a period of months their positions only harden, the debate complicated by personal prejudices and agendas on both sides. And then, inevitably, it is too late and they have to deal with the tragic results of their inability to work together. The multi-layered characterizations sometimes raise echoes of David Mamet's Oleanna, with the younger woman in the right but contaminated by a zealotry that makes her unable to imagine not being in the right, while the older woman might be taking the correct position in this specific case but is exposed as prejudiced and corrupt on a deeper level. Penelope McDonald as the head and Emma Romy-Jones as the teacher meet the challenge of communicating both sincere dedication and compromising flaws of character so that neither woman is a villain but both bear some guilt. The result is a play that does full justice to its difficult subject but moves beyond it to broader and deeper truths, while holding our attention and emotional involvement throughout.  Gerald Berkowitz

Cold/Warm  Pleasance     ***
The particular kind of mental breakdown that can occur when an already weak mind is subjected to a period of social isolation is the subject of Florence Read's Cold/Warm. Ieuan Perkins plays a young man who had relied on his mother's guidance until she went into a nursing home and finds himself unable to understand or cope with the world without it. This can take humorous form, as when he can't see why shoes left outside a mosque aren't abandoned and for the taking, or be more serious, a social worker's attempt to help him becoming just a confusing and frightening invasion. As he withdraws into his flat and his insecurity generates paranoia and apocalyptic visions, his outside contact limited largely to the sound of neighbours on the stairs, he looks for connection to inanimate things, finding hidden messages in flashing street lights and beginning to confuse the microwave his mother fed him from with her, turning to it for advice and comfort. The encroaching insanity depicted here is not violent or flashy, and until a rushed and abrupt ending, actor Perkins and director James Wright wisely underplay it, capturing the chilling demeanour and determined calm of one struggling to convince himself he is being rational.  Gerald Berkowitz

Company   C Scala   ***
Sweeney Todd is the greater work, but Company will always be the quintessential Sondheim musical, its great songs and hard-edged New York attitude bringing out the best in the composer. The Lincoln Company, students and alumni of the University of Lincoln, offer an updated version of George Furth's book featuring some sexual juggling that works better than you might expect. Bobby, the 30-year-old bachelor observing his friends' marriages with doubt, is now Bobbi, a bisexual with a preference for women (Of her three dates, one – 'Another Hundred People' – is a boy.) Among her friends, the karate couple are two women, the happily divorcing couple two men. (Other changes, more matters of editing than thematic statement, include cutting 'Sorry/Grateful', the lost motel story with which Bobby seduces April and the dance while they're in bed, but the late addition 'Marry Me A Little' is inserted.) Mainly it works, or at least doesn't hurt. But when Bobbi impulsively asks the thoroughly straight Amy to marry her, the moment is more weird than sad as it is when Bobby does it. And, shorn of the motel story that made the seduction of April a comic scene, Bobbi's more directly sexual advances are just a wee bit creepy (as I think they would be with a man playing it this way). Anyway, now we know it can be done, though you might still wonder if it's worth doing. The Lincoln production has all the earmarks of a student show, with performances ranging from adequate to excellent. Two actresses are evidently alternating as Bobbi and April; the Bobbi I saw was a little too personality-less even for this character, and had a voice too weak for the cavernous room they were stuck in. The two patter songs, 'Another Hundred People' and 'Getting Married' are delightful, and the Joanne, after mugging a bit too much earlier, more than redeems herself with a stinging 'Ladies Who Lunch'.  Gerald Berkowitz
The Confessional   C Too   ***
Jayson Akridge's new play is a police procedural combined with a psychological study of both good guys and bad and a hint of the supernatural. While never transcending the genre, it nicely fleshes out the bare bones of its story and holds enough surprise twists to keep an audience engrossed. A man confesses to a crime that hasn't happened, just to get into an interview room for a game of wits with the detectives, to see if he can mess with their heads before they figure him out. He drops enough clues about a serial murderer of a few years back to make the cop who solved that case begin to wonder if he got it wrong. Just what the truth about the past is, who this guy is, and how much responsibility and guilt the cop should feel are the play's tools for keeping the audience guessing and trying to keep up. As the title suggests, there are moral and even religious overtones to much of the play that give it its psychological depth as the focus shifts from the criminal to the cop, though invoking supernatural evil as an explanation may be going a bit too far. Director Michael Kirkland keeps the tension and ambiguities high, while allowing a little too much of a stylistic gap between his own underplayed performance as the detective and Drew Gowland's almost over-the-top depiction of madness as the baddie.Gerald Berkowitz
Counting Sheep   King's Hall   **
Immersive theatre can be an acquired taste and what appeals to one person may bore another. This highly-regarded piece created by Lemon Bucket Orkestra attempts to give viewers the authentic Ukrainian experience as war raged and the people rose up in protest. The start is not auspicious. Visitors are asked to queue in the rain (at the performance under review) for ages while bags and coats are checked (slowly). There is then a wait until 20 minutes after the advertised starting time before anything occurs beyond a little background music. For the following 70 minutes, terrifying events in Vilnius (and possibly beyond) are shown on large screens, while beneath masked cast members feed and chase paying guests around the space (which they wreck) in an attempt to let them understand what this benighted country has experienced. This requires visitors to buy in and the brief episodes can seem meaningful but seem strung together randomly, requiring significant audience participation for their overall effect. This “Guerrilla Folk Opera” is therefore, like a 1960s “happening”, an a cquired taste that many might never find a need to acquire, while others will rave (in almost every sense). Philip Fisher. 
Cut   Underbelly Med Quad   **   (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
The audience meets at a different location and is led by a circuitous route to a venue they could have reached more simply and directly on their own. There a small room is plunged into total darkness while Hannah Norris, in the dark or lit by a dim pinspot, keeps popping up in different corners of the playing space. What at first seem fragmented and unrelated speeches gradually coalesce into the story of an air hostess terrorised by a sinister passenger who follows her through the city and to her home before attacking her. Or maybe, as a number of clues in the text suggest, that doesn't actually happen at all, and is as unreal as the woman's accounts of a scissors-wielding midget or an occasion of rolling a fish downhill in an old tyre. Or are they, as improbable and irrelevant as they seem, as true as the stalker? The story, be it of actual terror or psychological breakdown, does gain a little from the atmospheric darkness and sudden flashes of light. But the overall sense is of a very limited text and an overused theatrical gimmick being arbitrarily yoked together with quickly diminishing returns. Gerald Berkowitz
Daffodils   Traverse   ***
A song-and-story cycle by Rochelle Bright, supposedly based on her own parents, tells of a New Zealand couple whose romance survives a string of ill omens and false starts, only to run aground later for unlikely but believable reasons. Their meeting as teenagers in 1964 is most inauspicious, as he finds her staggering drunkenly in the street and is stuck with driving her a long way home to her mother's Presbyterian disapproval. A few not very successful dates promise little, but a world tour he had previously arranged allows absence to do what presence couldn't, and they marry on his return. Only then do their ingrained character traits – his tendency to brood and not share his feelings, her insecurities – set them up for a crisis when his keeping a family secret pushes her into suspecting the worst. As staged by the playwright and Kitan Petkovski, the two performers – Colleen Davis and Todd Emerson – stand at separate microphones barely interacting to tell their stories, punctuating their narratives with a string of New Zealand pop songs (by the likes of Crowded House, The Mutton Birds and Bic Runga) backed by an onstage band. The story may be a little too generic and the telling kept at a safe emotional distance by the presentation. But we do believe in the characters and wish them well, watching with real regret as they walk blindly into unhappiness   Gerald Berkowitz

Diary of a Madman   Traverse   ***
A new play by Al Smith, very loosely inspired by Gogol's tale of a man descending into insanity, offers to do what Gogol didn't really attempt, which is to understand and explain the process. Life, he suggests, is made up of a number of fixed points by which we define ourselves, and loss of too many of those anchors in reality can threaten our hold on reality. 'Painting the Forth Bridge' has long been the catchphrase for unending work, since it reputedly takes a year and has to be done once a year. But suppose someone developed a longer-lasting paint? Smith's hero is in fact one of the bridge painters, and is deeply shaken by the impending loss of what seemed as sure a job as any could be. His role as husband is uncertain if he is not to be the breadwinner, his role as father by his teenage daughter's romance with an English lad. Grasping for self-definitions, he confuses these issues with his Scottishness, and falls into a world inhabited by both Braveheart and Greyfriars Bobby. The process of his breakdown is believable and, in a virtuoso performance by Liam Brennan, very touching. But it is clear that the play wants to be saying something larger about the fragile or confused Scottish sense of national or cultural identity, and it never really resonates  Gerald Berkowitz
Dropped  Pleasance     ***
This new drama from Adelaide-based Gobsmacked Theatre addresses the insanity of war by watching war engender insanity. Though the statement is strong, the playwright, director and actors have difficulty developing it beyond its initial presentation. Two soldiers sit in an unidentified barren location, which we gradually learn is an abandoned battle scene. Ordered to guard it while the war moved on, they have been forgotten by both sides and, cut off and purposeless, they have quietly gone mad. They try to fill the time by sharing memories, but, having done this repeatedly, lose any certainty of whose memory is whose, or how they go. They can't pass the time with games when they can't keep track of the rules. Their maternal yearnings come out in memories of a baby, but they can't be sure it is one they left at home, one they killed in battle or one they've just imagined. Directed by David McVicar, actors Sarah Cullinan and Natalia Sledz capture the intensity of women vaguely aware that they're losing control and trying their best to hang on. While you might expect it to take longer than the story line allows for them to have gone mad, the play's biggest weakness is that it says almost all of what it has to say about the horror of their situation in the first twenty minutes or so and then has little to do but say it again and again, to diminishing returns.  Gerald Berkowitz
Dublin Oldschool   Pleasance   ****
To call this show high-energy is to underrate it. Performers Emmet Kirwan and Ian Lloyd Anderson, working from Kirwan's script, grab the audience and pull them along through a rap-fuelled all-but-pauseless outpouring of words and rhythms to capture the desperate intensity of a weekend of racing from one party and rave to another energised by music, camaraderie and almost every illegal substance they can swallow, sniff, smoke or otherwise ingest. That 'almost' is significant because the forward rush of the narrative is repeatedly punctuated by encounters between Kirwan's Jason and his heroin-addicted older brother, played, along with other roles, by Ian Lloyd Anderson. Those meetings might even be only in Jason's mind, but nonetheless provide the real arc of the story. While the ostensible goal of the weekend is for Jason to get a chance to DJ one of the raves, the real adventure he is undertaking begins with realizing what a dead-end journey he is on and perhaps taking the first steps toward growing up. The incessant flow of words and driving rhythmic delivery sometimes test the audience's ability to keep up, the words decaying into contentless verbal music. But director Phillip McMahon and the two performers generally catch those moments and skilfully insert pauses or changes of pacing, as much to let the audience catch its breath as the actors. Dublin Oldschool is a tour-de-force of performance in the service of a script with more depth and body than first appears. Gerald Berkowitz

The Duke   Pleasance   **

Shon Dale-Jones, remembered fondly for his alter ego of Hugh Hughes, amiable naif whose attempts to make theatre without really understanding what theatre was made for comic and actually quite lovely hours of pure theatre, was bound to give up the character eventually, but we could reasonably hope for something as imaginative in its place. Instead, Dale-Jones chooses to sit at a desk, as himself (or some lightly fictionalized version of himself) to tell of a recent experience. His mother broke a favourite porcelain figurine, and his attempts to replace it blended in his thoughts with the demands he was getting from a film producer to alter a filmscript he had written and with news reports of African refugees paying what were to them fortunes for boat transport across the Mediterranean, leading in each case to the sound but unoriginal conclusion that the value of anything is the price someone is willing to pay for it. Dale-Jones is a good storyteller, and he fleshes out his triple account, particularly the figurine hunt, with humour and well-drawn characterizations. But not even the assurance that everything this show earns will go to refugee relief can make it transcend a purely personal story, and The Duke never fully escapes the shadow of the Blogger's Fallacy, the conviction that everyone else will find your life as interesting as you do.  Gerald Berkowitz

Durham Revue   Underbelly   **
For a while a real challenge to Oxford and Cambridge in creating original and really funny undergraduate revues, Durham seems to have been coasting in the past couple of years, and this year's edition is disappointing. Building the show on parodies of TV genres is practically an open admission that they had no real new ideas, and too many of the sketches poke easy fun at easy targets, be they soft-spoken cliche-spouting professors on history documentaries or loud-shouting cliche-spouting macho men on nature documentaries. Gentrification, advertising slogans, James Bond, Mastermind, a satnav with attitude – even if Durham could come up with new jokes on these topics they would feel old. The occasional play on words, like someone mishearing a call for topical humour or a Labour Party in a maternity ward, offers a legitimate chuckle. But this well-under-an-hour show just has far too little that's fresh, original or surprising to offer.  Gerald Berkowitz
Every Brilliant Thing   Summerhall   *****   (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
When his mother suffers from depression a small boy tries to cheer her up with a list of reasons to be happy – popcorn, balloons, the colour yellow and the like. It tragically doesn't help mother, but as the boy grows up he occasionally adds to the list – ice cream, kung fu movies, pretty girls – until it numbers in the thousands, and it does help him through his own bouts with depression. Performer Jonny Donahoe tells this story written by Duncan Macmillan with infectious enthusiasm, and since his narration involves citing a lot of entries from his list, the theatre fills with images of happiness. In fact, Donahoe begins the show by handing printed slips of paper out to many in the audience, so that when he calls out various numbers voices from all over the house ring out with brilliant things. Donahoe also casts audience members in small roles, including his father, a school counsellor and the girl of his dreams, encourages them to ad lib little scenes with him and then smoothly incorporates their contributions into his script. People have been known to come out of this show floating on little pink clouds of joy, but even if it doesn't affect you quite that strongly, you can enjoy watching a master performer take hold of an audience, lift them up and not let them down. Gerald Berkowitz

Save on a Great Hotel!

Expensive Shit   Traverse   ***
In Adura Onashile's drama-with-music, a Nigerian woman works as the toilet attendant in a Scottish night club, passing out tissues, chatting with customers, offering advice and cadging tips. Her thoughts repeatedly go back to her own youth as a clubber in Nigeria, when she and her friends dreamt of being hired as club dancers. Onashile's subject is the limitation placed on and accepted by women, both there and then and here and now. In both contexts the women define themselves and their ambitions entirely in terms of men, and in both they accept exploitation and abuse as the norm. Their hero in Nigeria was a rebel who preached liberty but kept his 'wives' on a timetable of servicing him. The Scottish night club offers its male patrons the opportunity to spy on the ladies' room through two-way mirrors. What tentative gestures the women make toward solidarity are undercut by the betrayals their need to survive forces on them. These specific indignities and abuses are, of course, metaphors for a broader subjugation, though the play sometimes seems unsure where to direct its outrage – is the attendant, who knows about the peeping toms, a victim or traitor? Other inconsistencies or clashes in tone also weaken the play's strong vision, as quietly understated metaphors stand alongside clumsy bits of over-explicitness ('I'm a person, just like you!') and the bursts of theatrical vitality in the flashbacks to the young girls dancing could be seen as celebrating an unquenchable spirit or decrying pathetic self-delusion. There is righteous and rightful outrage here, but not channelled into the most effective expression.   Gerald Berkowitz
Fabric  Underbelly   ****
Fabric is the harrowing monologue of a woman whose only crime was to dream of a fairy tale wedding and marriage, remaining wilfully blind to dark portents, and whose unearned punishment was physical abuse, vilification and near-destruction. Actress Nancy Sullivan goes through a range of extreme emotions, with hardly any pause in the more moderate levels between them, giving a performance of total commitment. The title reflects the fact that much of the story by Abi Zakarian is told through clothing, from the high-end men's store where the speaker meets her husband-to-be, through the ominously heavy and restricting wedding gown of her dreams, to the girls'-night-out dress that is used against her in a rape defence. We might spot before the speaker does that her account of an ideally romantic courtship is a little too good to be true, but she is forced to drop the rose-coloured glasses soon after the wedding when her husband's penchant for violent and demeaning sex is revealed. And his attitude toward her becomes even clearer on that night out, when one of his friends who happens to be there assumes the right to take advantage of her in even more violent and degrading ways, an attack compounded by the lies told in his trial. Zakarian's writing can be vivid – comparing parents' attitudes to the impending match the speaker notes 'No one is good enough for a son but anyone is good enough for a daughter' – and even witty – of her wedding gown, ' I look like a present that's been gift-wrapped by a bored salesgirl'. But as the tone of the monologue grows darker the writing becomes somewhat overwrought, to the play's detriment. Let me be clear here – I do not in any way imply that rape is an insignificant crime not worthy of outrage. But sometimes a writer can do an injustice to the most serious of subjects through too-purple prose, and in Zakarian's writing in the last section of the play less might have been more. There can be nothing but praise for Tom O'Brien's direction and Nancy Sullivan's performance.  Gerald Berkowitz

Fingertips   C Nova    ***
A half-dozen twenty-somethings gather for a night of drinking, games-playing and soul-searching, and the one thing most of them come to realize is that their lives and their handle on life has not progressed much since their student days. They remain fascinated by each other's sex lives and embarrassed, for one reason or another, about their own. The women complain of male sexism, the men of female inconsistency. Someone admits to being a virgin, someone is surprisingly romantic, someone denounces romance. And while most feel vaguely guilty that they're not quite grown-ups yet, the only real change from their uni days is that they all now have a larger collection of sensitive spots for the others to attack or exploit. Playwright Naomi Fawcett is thoroughly convincing in her psychology of the quarter-life crisis, but less successful in shaping her character studies into a play. The 50-minute drama holds your interest, but mainly because you're waiting for something to actually happen. Nothing does, and the play just stops at an arbitrary point without having gone anywhere or really ended. Natalie Denton's direction and the performances by the attractive cast suffer from the same limitation, wholly believable from minute to minute, but adding up to too little beyond the individual minutes.  Gerald Berkowitz
Fossils  Pleasance Dome     ***
Nel Crouch's play is a rumination on how much mystery and even whimsy there should be in science. A super-serious female scientist works with male colleagues who are as dedicated but have lives outside the lab and can find room in their day for the occasional joke. She has a particular disdain for cryptobiology, largely because her estranged father was a Nessie-hunter and she feels tainted by association. But then an opportunity for real career advancement comes if she will apply her scientific discipline to finishing her father's work. Can she unbend enough to take on this unorthodox project? Might she even relax and enjoy it, or is she in danger of figuratively and literally drowning in the depths of Loch Ness? Helen Vinten captures the woman's theoretical and personal struggles, generously supported by Adam Farrell and David Ridley as Everyone Else, and the playwright directs with clever touches to keep alive the tension between serious science and science-as-play, such as littering the stage with toy dinosaurs that the characters casually employ as props. The play moves a little too quickly once the action shifts to Scotland, squeezing in a reunion with an old friend and the discovery of a never-sent letter from her father, and ends without resolving any of the personal or professional issues it raises. Gerald Berkowitz
The Glass Menagerie  King's Theatre   *****
It may happen only a very few times in a life of theatregoing that a play you know and have seen many times gets a new production that is so revelatory that you realize everyone else simply got it wrong. This visit to the Edinburgh International Festival revival of the American Repertory Theatre production of Tennessee Williams's first success is one of those. I'll assume you know the play. Every Amanda I've ever seen played her as a grotesque cartoon, a comical freak of nervous energy, fantasies of past and future, and total denial of reality. Director John Tiffany and actress Cherry Jones make the revolutionary choice of playing her as a normal, realistic, loving and nagging mother, and it makes all the difference. The whole dynamic of the family changes, particularly in the opening act, as there is more warm domestic drama than broad comedy, and Michael Esper's Tom and Kate O'Flynn's Laura are also moved to softer performances, creating a real sense of a loving family. And later in the play, when Amanda's nervousness at entertaining Jim does make her hyper and ridiculous, we can see the change, and see all its sadness. There are other fine things in this production – the real warmth between Laura and Tom, Seth Numrich's contribution to the never-failing scene between Laura and Jim – but it is Cherry Jones's moving and, I am convinced, absolutely right Amanda that makes this a truly great production.   Gerald Berkowitz

Gratiano   Spotlites   **
A reminder: in The Merchant Of Venice Gratiano is the hero's friend who accompanies him on his courting trip and winds up marrying Portia's maid. Writer-performer Ross Ericson transports the story into the Twentieth Century, with all Shakespeare's Christian characters first Mussolini Blackshirts and then Mafia thugs. Ericson's Gratiano retells the story with a combination of a minor character's envy of the star and a low-level hoodlum's resentment at never having risen in the criminal hierarchy. It's a clever conceit but ultimately an empty one. The Shakespearean connection tells us very little about either the Fascists or the Mafia, and the twentieth-century setting tells us very little about Shakespeare – the one small exception being the suggestion of what would probably have happened to Shylock under the Fascists. The fictional premise for this retelling is that Bassanio the modern criminal has been killed and Gratiano is going through the list of people, from Antonio through Portia and even himself, who might have had motives, but that new plot line really goes nowhere. On a bare stage, with only a plain chair to occasionally sit on, Ericson uses his imposing physical presence and persuasive acting talent to create the modern characterization and keep the story alive, but the essential thinness of the concept ultimately limits him  Gerald Berkowitz

Greater Belfast  Traverse   ***
Poet-singer Matt Regan, backed by the Cairn String Quartet, offers a song and spoken word salute to a Belfast aware of its past but looking to its future. Regan mixes personal memories with history, consciously circling around the elephant in the room until he has established enough of a context to put the Troubles in their rightful significant but not central place. A song about Sleech, the unique and characteristic dust and dirt of the city, sets the tone, and one saluting the Millies of the old linen mills makes more recent history part of a larger picture. As poet and narrator Regan relies a little too much on the device of unfinished sentences to suggest the reaching for the inexpressible, and a long story about visiting the Ulster museum as a child is not as evocative as he would hope. But his verse draws life from what you may only slowly realize are the rhythms and complex internal rhymes of rap, though with rap's characteristic braggadocio replaced by a softer and more elegiac tone. At a little over an hour, the piece may go on too long, and there is likely to be a more effective forty minute set to be extracted from it.  Gerald Berkowitz
Happy Dave   Pleasance   ***
Oli Forsyth's pleasant little play doesn't have a whole lot to say, but says it with infectious good spirits. It's set in two time frames – the mid 1990s, height of the rave culture, when thousands of revellers would descend on a 'secret' country field to dance all night to DJ music, and more-or-less today. The titular Dave was a star DJ in the first period who, like most other ravers, eventually grew up and moved on, ending in a middle-management ad agency job. A night out with a younger colleague convinces him that the club scene today is tame and lame, and needs him to bring back the raves. Can you revisit the past, and even if you can, should you? Is older Dave a pop culture saviour or just a little bit ridiculous, like an uncle dancing at a wedding? Was even younger Dave fighting a rearguard action to sustain something that was already waning? The play and production by Smoke And Oakum Theatre aren't too cruel in their view of anyone, celebrating what once was while acknowledging that it cannot again be, and Happy Dave is a lightly entertaining hour.  Gerald Berkowitz
He Had Hairy Hands   Pleasance   ****   (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
Kill The Beast is one of the incredibly inventive, incredibly courageous young companies that the Fringe has discovered and nurtured throughout its history – writer-performers who come up with wholly original ideas and styles, and have the nerve to commit to them at full throttle. Their metier is the world of classic horror movies of the 1930s, pushed to their logical extreme until they become self-referential, self-feeding farces. He Had Hairy Hands is set in a village so filled with foggy atmosphere and inbred isolation that a werewolf is not the most bizarre of its residents and you are more likely to die laughing than clawed apart. Consider the two women both named Trisha given to walking their unseen somethings on the moors at night, or the cop whose idea of dictating a telegram is to rattle off 'dididotdidotdidot' over the phone. There's the mayor who ominously always wears gloves, the mysterious 'historiorium' that town funds have been diverted to and, of course, the howling in the night and growing pile of dead bodies. Four performers (who, along with the director, are credited as writers) play everyone, the quick and not always all that convincing changes of costume and characterisation being a big part of the joke. With everyone in spooky greyface out of the Thriller video and atmospheric film projections as background, this is a loving salute and send-up of a whole genre, a celebration of theatrical inventiveness, and a whole lot of fun. Gerald Berkowitz

The Hogwallops   Underbelly's Circus Hub   ***   (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
It would appear, from the formats of the larger than usual number of circuses in Edinburgh this year, that impressive feats of tumbling, flying or climbing on each other are no longer considered enough, and there needs to be a fictional premise or plot to justify the acrobatics. In this presentation from the Lost In Translation Circus, the Hogwallops are presented as a family whose father wants a cake for his birthday. So a little horseplay keeping the ingredients from being assembled turns into a stageful of tumbling, the mixing requires standing on the strong man's shoulders, and so on. A pause to hang up some laundry brings in a trapeze, cleaning up the general mess requires more lifting and tumbling, and any spare moments are occasions for juggling, magic or general clowning. When Mama needs a break from the tumult, she turns Papa's Zimmer frame into a trapeze and escapes into a quietly lovely aerial ballet. The acrobatics themselves are more variations on standard turns than innovative, and much of the hour's pleasure comes from the warm humour of the characters and story rather than the scary thrills usually associated with flying and tumbling. Gerald Berkowitz

The Humble Heart Of Komrade Krumm   Bedlam   ***
Babolin Theatre and writer Richard Fredman imagine a future in which a new Ice Age has decimated the human population and the survivors sit around chanting and singing tales of an epic hero of earlier days, the aviator, astronaut and arctic explorer Krumm. When one of his descendants sets off on a quest to find him, she discovers that he had none of the heroic virtues myth has given him, and that even if he weren't such a disappointment he would still be of little use to the present. A new mythology and quasi-religion develops around her, which may be a step forward for humanity. It's an interesting concept, but makes for a surprisingly uninteresting play. Director Tom Penn has future civilization spending all its time sitting around a table in vaguely monastic robes, chanting and speaking in a company-invented language that is what they imagine English evolving into. Most of the play is in this unintelligible language (which sounds vaguely like Old German), and has to be translated for us line-by-line by one of the group. Along with the decision to have the cast spend most of their time with their backs to the audience, this places a self-defeating barrier between play and audience that almost defies us to find a way in, to care about any of it, or even to follow the story (I am not absolutely sure about the plot summary earlier). It also makes it virtually impossible to judge the acting, except to note with some admiration that they are all fully committed to this stylized mode and operate as an impressive if opaque ensemble. Certainly ambitious, and more than a little pretentious and overly pleased with its own cleverness, this oddity gets at least one of its stars for its only-in-Edinburgh weirdness. Gerald Berkowitz

I Got Superpowers For My Birthday   Roundabout at Summerhall  ****

As part of the Paines Plough mission, the company likes to include a family show in the Roundabout programme. I Got Superpowers for My Birthday is a swashbuckling adventure that follows three youngsters from the same school in the days before and after their shared 13th birthday. Each has the kind of minor concerns that beset fresh teenagers, while they do not particularly like each other. Richard Corgan’s Ethan is macho but not very bright, Will played by Andy Rush is bright but insecure, while Fiona, portrayed by Remy Beasley, is a girl and thereby undervalued. Their lives transform as a gargoyle, a goblin, a slug and a dragon threaten the kids and their families. As a result, the youngsters team up in time-honoured superhero fashion and discover secret superpowers, able respectively to generate earthquakes, freeze and ignite in what becomes an exciting, but humorous play that even has an underlying moral. Co-Artistic Director George Perrin and his cast must have enjoyed the creation of a work that should appeal to young and old alike and really benefits from exceptional light and sound designs by Prema   Philip Fisher

In Fidelity   Traverse  **
In this audience-involvement show (Be warned), writer-performer Bob Drummond imagines a TV game show along the lines of Cilla Black's Blind Date. Playing the oily host, Drummond recruits some volunteers from the audience, puts them through a few humorous tests and selects the couple who will be further tested, asked intimate questions and made to do embarrassing things, all ostensibly in the cause of establishing their compatibility and probability of being faithful, but actually, of course, to generate audience laughter. Drummond is depending on those uninhibited enough to volunteer eventually saying or doing funny things, or things he can make fun of. But he has a script to move forward with and a collection of prepared ad libs to cover any dead spots or bits that don't work. There is also a second plot line as, to encourage the contestants to open up, the host describes the research he did on dating sites, and we see him moving toward an infidelity of his own. There are taste issues here, and also the real possibility that on any given night the chosen couple could prove totally unfunny. Strictly for those who watch TV clip shows in the hope that a child will fall or an athlete injure himself.  Gerald Berkowitz

In Tents And Purposes   Assembly  ***
The premise of this comedy by and with Roxy Dunn and Alys Metcalf is that it is actually by Dunn alone and that she has inserted what she calls 'meta' elements, calling for the pair to repeatedly break the frame and comment as actors on their roles and plot developments, a structure that leaves Metcalf uncertain at any given moment whether she's supposed to be herself, the character of the actress or the character in the story. The story itself is of two women much like themselves who are given contrasting forecasts by a fortune teller. When Dunn-the-character's less happy prediction comes true, Dunn-the-supposed-playwright invokes her meta-prerogative of going back to that scene and switching the predictions, only to discover that even a playwright has limited control over her play. Clever as this is, the alternate-futures plot is ultimately less interesting and fun than the playing with levels of reality and the general interactions between the performers. Metcalf does the befuddled blonde very well, while Dunn's comic exasperation approaches Oliver Hardy levels. They find more to say comically about the political significance of pubic hair than you might expect, and quickly-sketched secondary characters like the fortune teller are enjoyable caricatures. It's the jokes told in passing, the incidental byplay and the attractive chemistry between the two performers that carries the light and happy hour.  Gerald Berkowitz

Intergalactic Nemesis: Twin Infinity - A Live Action Graphic Novel 
Pleasance     ****
A 'live action graphic novel', this comic science fiction adventure has live actors providing the voices for comic book graphics projected, panel by panel, on a large screen. The visuals tell the story, the actors stand at microphones with their scripts, radio-style, an onstage organist provides soap opera dramatic chords, and a hard-working onstage sound effects technician plays everything from creaking doors to rocket ships. The plot has something to do with a man travelling back in time to stop a world catastrophe, encountering his younger self and working together with himself, a plucky girl journalist, identical twin sexy Russian spies, a Bhutanese submarine pilot and the Marx Brothers, to foil a Nazi mad scientist who is also a green-tentacled alien. But the parody jumble of sci-fi elements, entertaining as it is, is almost irrelevant since the real fun of the ninety minutes lies in the presentation. The graphics by David Hutchison and Lee Duhig are bright and colourful, the actors skilfully exploit their repertoire of accents and voices to juggle three or four roles each, the direction and pacing are polished, and sound effects maestro Kelly Matthews, with what must be several hundred sound cues, is the real star of the show.  Gerald Berkowitz

In Our Hands  Underbelly     **
Smoking Apples Theatre use human actors, mime, puppets, shadow puppetry and miniature models to tell the story of a Cornish fisherman going broke but resisting a large company's attempts to buy him out. The fisherman and one other character consist of a head and hands held by two puppeteers, and most episodes involve a string of performance modes, as when the puppet fisherman brings his catch to human processors and toy trucks deliver the catch to a human-run Fish and Chips shop in London, all watched over by a hungry puppet seagull. There are touches of quiet subtlety, such as the outgoing message on the fisherman's answering machine that tells volumes about him. But, except for the seagull, who has a lot of personality, the puppets are too inexpressive and the puppetry unimaginative. Too much of the story is told rather than shown, the whole corporate buy-out plot, for example, explained in a radio news bulletin, and in too many sequences it is difficult to understand – or simply see – what is supposed to be happening. Overcomplicated scene changes sometimes seem to take longer than the scenes they set up. This is a case in which admirable ambition too often outstrips accomplishment.  Gerald Berkowitz

Just Let The Wind Untie My Perfumed Hair, or Who Is Tabirih?  Assembly    ***
The early nineteenth-century Iranian poet, preacher and radical known as Tahirih is yet another 'lost' heroine of history that modern scholars are belatedly acknowledging. This solo piece written by Delia Olam and Hera Whinfield and performed by Olam tells Tahirih's story through the testimony of real and imagined witnesses, the poet herself remaining literally behind a curtain. Her progressive father encouraged her education but is shocked when she begins to display it in public. A loyal servant observes with wonder her effect on others, an ardent disciple comes under her spell, and her executioner is pleased to be the one to finally shut her heretical mouth. Tahirih herself remains the shadowy figure behind the screen, singing some of her strikingly sensuous religious and erotic poems to original music by Olam. With everyone assuring us that Tahirih was revolutionary, it isn't until late in the script that we are told what she advocated – equal gender rights, elimination of the veil and polygamy, respect for other religions. The authors and performer create no real or imagined personality for her, and leave unsaid whether Tahirih was just a historical footnote or had any lasting effect. So the power and value of this show lies almost entirely in introducing us to this little-known figure, not in convincing us of her importance or bringing her dramatically alive.  Gerald Berkowitz

Krapp, 39    Pleasance     **
Writer-actor Michael Laurence, who has appeared in Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, wrote Krapp, 39 to blend his own experience of being thirty-nine with one of the voices on Krapp's old tapes. It is an interesting experiment, but one that doesn't really pay off. Laurence's Krapp inevitably differs from Beckett's, as he fully realizes even while he is making comparisons and identifications, and the biggest and most limiting difference is self-consciousness. As performer, Laurence sits at one of two tables, the one dominated by a mirror and the other by a TV camera, both indicators of self-absorption, while reading from a laptop script that negates any suggestion of spontaneity. And so, unlike Beckett's 39-year-old man, talking only to his own diary, Laurence-Krapp is always consciously writing for an audience and giving a performance. This not only raises questions about how honest he is being, and therefore of how useful what he has to say can be, but inevitably makes his Krapp far less interesting than Beckett's. Beckett is a wise enough writer to make us discover things about his Krapp, while Laurence tells us everything with the self-obsession of a compulsive blogger. There is only so much of someone else's navel-gazing that most people can take, and Laurence runs the serious risk that audiences will lose interest in the person he finds so riveting. Gerald Berkowitz

Lady Rizo   Assembly Checkpoint   ****
The New York based diva returns to Edinburgh after skipping a year, during which she had a baby, and that baby, who we meet in the most intimate of circumstances, is the subject of her current show. Rizo, for those who don't know, is a superb song stylist with a tendency to talk too much and sing too little, at least for my taste. Her mode is to employ all her voice's power, with the amplifier turned up to eleven and then, without warning but at what turns out to be exactly the right moment, drop the volume or modulate to chilling effect. Her play list this year is loosely tied to her new motherhood, from John Lennon's bluesy 'Mother' and a weary 'Help Me Make It Through The Night' to several of her own songs. And yes, as rumour had it, she brings her now eight-month-old son onstage and nurses him while crooning a lullaby, and it is a lovely moment.  Gerald Berkowitz

Le Bossu   Bedlam   ****
The company withWings inventively uses acting, dance, music and clever staging to retell the story of the Hunchback Of Notre Dame in a poetically evocative and even occasionally comic way. The basic story of the deformed bell ringer, the lovely gypsy dancer and the lustful priest is told clearly and efficiently. But it is the moments of surprising and delighting stage imagery that punctuate the narrative that catch you unaware and stick in your mind afterwards. Quasimodo's bells are depicted by actors on swings, moving back and forth as he pulls on his ropes, singing their one note singly or in harmony. And when off duty, as it were, they complain about the weather or, in his imagination, trade riddles and play charades with him. Sets of fireplace bellows fill in for the pigeons of the square, and Esmeralda's gypsy dance soon has passers-by joyfully hoofing along like a Broadway chorus line, while later a group dance with darker tones evokes the troubled dreams of those stirred by her sensuality. There aren't quite enough of these magical moments to keep the whole hour at the same high level of invention and delight, and the production's hold on the audience noticeably flags toward the end. But when it works it is breathtakingly clever, making Le Bossu well worth seeing and withWings a company name to remember. Gerald Berkowitz

Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons   Summerhall   ****
Sam Steiner's two-hander, performed here by Beth Holmes and Euan Kitson, takes a fresh look at the potentially over-familiar subject of communication and makes it fresh and real. A young couple go through the predictable communication problems, discovering that words mean different things to each of them or that one is more inclined to talk through things than the other. And then Steiner throws a spanner in the works by imagining the government imposing a new anti-chatter law limiting everyone to 140 words a day. (Why, and how it could be enforced, is never explained, but even in the privacy of their bedroom the characters shut up when they hit their limit.) What this does to the couple is raise the stakes, making them even more aware of the need to be open and communicate with each other, and after some mild comedy of trying to come up with quota-saving codes, they settle down to thinking really seriously about what they want to say and how important it is to say it, before opening their mouths. Under Ed Madden's direction, it is all done with the light touch of romantic comedy, but is likely to leave the thoroughly entertained audience walking away with some serious thoughts.  Gerald Berkowitz

Life According To Saki   C Chambers Street   **

H H Munro, who used the pen name Saki, was an Edwardian writer of deceptively simple and polite short stories with a surprise twist or macabre sting in their tails. Katherine Rundell's play finds him in the WWI trenches (where he served as an ordinary soldier despite being 45, and died in 1916) entertaining his fellows with some of his tales, which they help stage. Overhearing a country gentleman complain of his boring life, a practical joker calls on him in the guise of a homicidal Russian prince and shakes him up. A boy creates a personal religion around a toy ferret, and his god answers his murderous prayers. A widow and widower contemplate marriage but must first figure out what to do with their already accumulated children. Director Jessica Lazar perhaps unwisely stages each tale in a different manner, from straight acting through Story Theatre, masks and puppetry. As a result the production doesn't establish a consistent tone or style, nor does there seem any real connection between the wartime frame and the embedded tales. Lazar also seems uncertain whether to play each episode for drama, surprise, horror or ironic humour, and too often ends up achieving none of these effects very well. Like Saki's stories themselves, the dramatisation may be a little too genteel and leisurely for modern tastes, and this bland and unexciting production does little to make them come alive. Gerald Berkowitz

Living A Little   New Town Theatre  ****
Writer/actor Finlay Bain's clever, funny and serious play takes a clichéd premise in surprisingly fresh and moving directions as the zombie apocalypse has come and two guys and a girl are holed up in a well-stocked and well-fortified flat. Freed for the moment from fighting the undead and mature enough to not let any sexual tensions cause problems, they actually have the chance to think seriously about their situation. Should they stockpile and ration their supplies, for example, or seize the day and live as well as they can for as long as they can, and what are the larger moral implications of either choice? But the real subject of the play is not so much discussed as demonstrated in their actions, as they instinctively make choices in little and large things that movingly define the nature of friendship and the demands and rewards it brings. And yet much of the play is broadly comic, from the characterizations to a very funny mimed sequence reflecting someone's first experience of Ecstacy. Each of the trio has a comic side, with Bain himself playing a crude but good-hearted bloke, Paul Thirkell his very camp roommate, and Lauren Sheerman a street-hardened girl slow to let down her guard. But like the play itself, each character moves beyond a simple stereotype to surprise us with attractive depths. Living A Little has its minor flaws, but Bain is a real writer to keep an eye out for. His characters are inventive and well-drawn, he can do both serious and comic, his dialogue is sharp and he does have something to say.  Gerald Berkowitz

MacBain   Summerhall   *
A heavily stoned couple, identified in the program as Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, attempt to have a coherent conversation between his repeated nodding off and her fits of giggles. Some stage smoke transports us into Shakespeare, and the two actors pop up from behind a couch like Punch and Judy to enact – badly – roughly half of Macbeth. More smoke, flashing lights and sound effects and the modern couple are back, quarrelling about things like parents killing children, children killing parents, and spin dryers, with frequent but not particularly useful quotations from Macbeth. A glass ceiling over the set gradually lowers until it pins them under it, and the play stops. I will admit to not being as immersed in the myths of Kurt and Courtney as some, and there are no doubt allusions and in-jokes (like that spin dryer?) I missed. But Shakespeare is not illuminated in any way by being filtered through Kurt and Courtney, nor do we learn anything about Kurt and Courtney through the Macbeth comparison. The performances are clearly impaired by having to be in English and by too loose a directorial hand (if there was any), that allows too free an indulgence in silly voices, ad libbing and general messing about. The whole thing smacks of an opaque private language and to-hell-with-the-audience self-indulgence.  Gerald Berkowitz

Made Up  Underbelly     ****
The Fast Food Collective's short and peppy piece follows a quartet of Dublin girls as they go clubbing. Performing on a small bare stage the actresses are aided by lighting and music changes to take us from homes to dance floor and back again. The evening begins when the inclination to stay home and watch TV is trumped by the dreaded FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) Syndrome, and the possibility looms of meeting a Spanish millionaire who will whisk them off to Marbella in his private jet, or, marginally less unlikely, of encountering an ex who will beg to be taken back. It is no spoiler to report that neither event occurs, but the girls get to dance and flirt, and while one may be ready to give up the hunt, another goes home with someone new, and there's always another night. Aoife Leonard's writing, in witty rhymed couplets, is sparkling and fun, with a particularly telling section on what a girl looks for in a guy and what she's willing to settle for. The four performers - Heather O'Sullivan, Aibhilin Ryan, Eimear Sparks and Tilly Taylor – keep the energy level high and form a tight ensemble while still establishing a distinct identity and personality for each girl. Of course the concept for this show is not brand-new, and the shadows of John Godber's Shakers and Willy Russell's Stags And Hens hover benignly over Made Up, reminding us that as anchored in time and place as Made Up is, much the same story could have been set any time in the past forty years.  Gerald Berkowitz

Milk  Traverse  **
There are three separate story lines to Ross Dunsmore's new drama, tied very loosely by theme rather than the few plot crossings. A young couple meet a crisis when her inability to nurse her baby makes her feel a failure as a woman, a teenage girl is desperate to become sexual, and an old couple sustain their love with shared memories of the child they lost years ago. There is something about the need to love and to nourish in all three stories, but it is tenuous at best, and so they never really connect and are generally too incomplete and sketchy to stand on their own. I offer some spoilers because they're not really all that surprising – one of the older people dies, the mother is convinced to bottle feed the baby, and the girl causes a lot of trouble for others with her sexual flirting. That we can't really get too involved with or concerned about any of this is reflected in the fact that the most memorable character is the secondary one of a teenage boy the girl toys with, actor Cristian Ortega creating an attractive portrait of a kid who, all things considered, would rather have some fried chicken. Veteran Tam Dean Burn, stepping in as a replacement late in rehearsals, may be limited to playing generic sweet old man, but he does it with easy expertise.  Gerald Berkowitz

Mr Kingdom's Queen Victoria (or A Little Of What You Fancy)  
Assembly Hall   ***
Fringe veteran and pioneer of the solo show Bob Kingdom presents a portrait of Queen Victoria that may not have very much that is new or unfamiliar in it but that benefits from the performer's own considerable charm. His Victoria rarely strays far from the conventional image of the rather formal and dowdy lady in black, and indeed one of the pillars of his characterization is that the Queen was very comfortable within that image and resisted any admonitions to break out of it in the slightest. The one liberty that Kingdom allows Victoria to allow herself is the occasional daydream of what life would be like as a Cockney housewife, though he makes it clear that her conception of such a figure would be generated more by music hall performers than by any real experience. Victoria is far more comfortable imagining herself arguing with God as an equal or with Albert, John Brown and various Prime Ministers as the unquestioned superior. The monologue is loosely structured as a stream of consciousness, with Victoria abruptly jumping from topic to topic, and it is sometimes unclear whether the occasional hesitation about what to say next is the character's or the actor's. Very much a safe and unchallenging choice for ticket buyers, but one that delivers on its promise of a pleasant afternoon hour.  Gerald Berkowitz

Mr Laurel and Mr Hardy Greenside Nicholson Square     ***
Despite its title, Mr Laurel And Mr Hardy is less about Stan and Ollie than about their fans, and serves as a reminder of an earlier time when some stars weren't just admired and appreciated but warmly loved. In the 1950s, their Hollywood careers over, Laurel and Hardy toured British music halls with an act built on familiar bits of business from their films, and found a fan base more loyal and ardent than in America. Bearing only the vaguest of physical resemblances to Laurel and Hardy, David Leeson and Colin Alexander don't make any real attempt at impersonation beyond a bit of tie-fluttering and head scratching and a half-hearted go at the Blue Ridge Mountains dance. Instead, Leeson and Alexander play two Manchester fans who worked in the theatre and had the opportunity not only to watch their idols onstage but to socialize with them, and the thrust of their reminiscences is the sheer pleasure of the stars' company. In the process they offer brief biographies of the two individually and as a team, amounting to little more than dates and names, and we might wish for more in the way of fact and anecdote. But in Leeson and Alexander's obvious affection for their subject, and the love they ascribe to the characters they play, Mr Laurel And Mr Hardy evokes the warmth between artists and audiences that a world of constant tweets and viral gossip has lost.  Gerald Berkowitz
Mrs Roosevelt Flies To London   Assembly Hall     ***
US President Franklin D Roosevelt's wife Eleanor was the first First Lady to have a public presence, as writer and speaker on progressive causes and as her husband's unofficial ambassador and agent. He sent her to Britain in 1942 to gauge national morale and provide assurance of American support. Alison Skilbeck's solo piece has Mrs. Roosevelt reminiscing twenty years later about being shocked at seeing bomb sites and impressed by the public's resilience. She has telling and sometimes cutting reactions to the King and Queen, whom she likes; Churchill, whom she doesn't; Queen Mary, who reminds her of her own gorgon mother-in-law; and General Eisenhower, whom she badgers about the state of soldiers' socks. Skilbeck structures the stream of consciousness so Eleanor can wander into other more personal topics, like the purely business arrangement that was her marriage and, discretely, the fact that her most intense emotional relationship was with another woman. As performer Skilbeck makes no real attempt to impersonate Eleanor in appearance, voice, accent or mannerisms, choosing instead to create the character from the inside as a woman born into a comfortable but emotionally stunted patrician class who discovered both a social conscience and a capacity for deep feelings only as an adult. For many people this is ancient history and the main value of the piece will be an introduction to the woman; for those who remember or know of Mrs. Roosevelt, Skilbeck's writing and performance create a believable and sympathetic characterization.  Gerald Berkowitz

My Eyes Went Dark   Traverse   ****
Two planes crash in mid-air and a man's wife and children are killed. He grieves, of course, but even worse than the grief is the not knowing why. Playwright Matthew Wilkinson posits a man for whom things must make sense and effects must have causes, and 'accident' and 'no one's fault' are unacceptable explanations. He pursues the investigation until someone – an overworked air traffic controller – can be blamed, and is then driven to make the punishment fit the crime. That what looks like vengeance can actually be the desperate need to put the universe back in order is an impressive and convincing insight. So is the play's demonstration that grief follows no neat order or process, but is a jumble of emotions, any one of which can dominate at any point. Cal MacAninch gives an intense but externally restrained performance as a man who may well be feeling a different emotion in each scene but retains a core of consistent identity. Thusitha Jayasundera provides solid support as Everyone Else, from therapists and lawyers to the wife of the man he blames. Both the individual story and the light it sheds on darkly complex emotions are moving, engrossing and dramatic.  Gerald Berkowitz
Nel   Pleasance Dome  ****
The all-female collective Scratchworks Theatre collectively tell a story so small as to be almost invisible, but tell it with such style and invention that you follow them happily. Nel is a sound effects technician on films, and when she isn't making footsteps or rainstorms on her tabletop she doesn't have much of a life. Her boss keeps inviting her to come clubbing, her aunt keeps trying to matchmake, but Nel is content to sit at home with the cat and goldfish. But then she does decide to try going out, joins a club, meets some people, and even begins to dress stylishly and trade her bike for a motorcycle. Impulsively she tells someone she's a producer and agrees to consider the new friend's filmscript, and it looks like her new life will crumble under its own fragility. With Sian Keen as Nel and Alice Higginson, Hanora Kamen and Laura Doble as Everyone Else, Nel's rise and perhaps fall is depicted through a constant flow of whirling movement, inventive sight gags – just putting on a coat is a precisely choreographed operation involving all four sets of hands – and music. Whenever Nel has nothing else to do she provides sound effects for the others, and when she's engaged they do it for her, and anyone with a free moment will pick up a musical instrument and play. It is no real spoiler to confirm that Nel ends up modestly happy, and anyway it is the journey rather than the ending, the inventive and endearing process of the telling more than the tale itself that holds and lingers warmly with the audience.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Nine Lives Of Antoine de Saint-Exupery  Assembly   **
This portrait of the pilot and author of The Little Prince opens with him playing chess with Death, who is imagined as a temptress he has loved all his life. There are footnotes there to Bergman and Fosse, but no indication in The Nine Lives of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry that author/actors Bart Vanlaere and Louise Seyffert are aware of either borrowing. Nor is there much other imagination evident in this presentation that tells us lots of facts but shows us little of the man beyond his inveterate risk-taking, the title referring not to separate careers or personalities but to his tendency to crash the planes he was piloting. Particularly missing is any sense of the writer, beyond a couple of brief descriptions that have the evocative feel of his style and the brief appearance of a ventriloquist's dummy operated by Seyffert that claims to be the Little Prince but looks nothing like the familiar illustrations. As performers Vanlaere and Seyffert seem oddly uncomfortable with their lines, and on a small and cluttered stage take turns fumbling with props and bumping into the set. Audiences who come in knowing nothing about Saint-Exupéry will learn a little, but this seems to be a case of research insufficiently digested and performance insufficiently rehearsed.  Gerald Berkowitz

Travelup Flight Deals

Often Onstage    Pleasance Dome     ****
Figs In Wigs is an all-female company seriously devoted to looking unserious, and the result of that dedication is one of the most delightful hours on the Fringe. Their current show is a collection of clever and satirically effective theatrical in-jokes that sometimes look like drama school end-of-term party pieces. We get an object lesson in how to milk a curtain call, along with a catalogue of different curtain call styles. A bit of arty interpretive dance is all but invisible behind a wall of stage smoke, while another is done to the accompaniment of a motivational video. The frantic farce of a four minute get-in and get-out between shows is particularly appreciated in the Edinburgh context, and the idea of an all-girl tribute to 1990s boy band The Backstreet Boys is satisfyingly silly. One of the dance routines, built on walking in formation in business suits, is actually quite lovely apart from its satirical content. Just about every sketch and musical sequence scores, a remarkably high ratio for a revue, and the only criticism to make is that some linger on after making their comic or satiric points and lose a little power as a result. This is a case in which everything in the show is good, and a little less of some of it might be even better.  Gerald Berkowitz

Oliver Reed - Wild Thing   Gilded Balloon   ***   (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
Rob Crouch as Oliver Reed enters in a monkey suit, and a recurring theme of the monologue that follows (after quickly removing the fur) is that the public wants some of their celebrities to be animals and wildmen. And while Reed didn't find playing that role on and off screen particularly difficult or foreign to his instincts, he still was aware that it was a role and that his living depended to a large extent to his maintaining it. So, he insists, some of the bizarre and drunken behaviour on TV chat shows that has become part of his legend was pure (well, almost pure) play-acting. Crouch's Reed doesn't deny being a heavy drinker and hell-raiser, and he happily recounts some of his misadventures, but insists that he was far more in control of his actions and his image than may have seemed possible. Crouch makes Reed quite an amiable drunk, with the charm of the totally unapologetic, so we share his pleasure in reporting that he is descended, through several levels of bastardy, from both Peter The Great and Herbert Beerbohm Tree, and respect the respect he shows to the performers (and carousers) he considers worthy, from Robert Mitchum to Keith Moon. Never really transcending the conventions of this sort of impersonation-personification, the fast-moving hour succeeds in making us feel we know the man a little better.Gerald Berkowitz
The Other
Institut Francais d'Ecosse  **
The Other is a performance piece of two unequal halves, the larger section an engaging fairy tale told principally through shadow puppetry and shadow acting, the later part an angry denunciation of immigration bureaucracy in an entirely different style. The first part is weakened by technical infelicities, the second by coming out of nowhere, forcing the audience to adjust abruptly. Writer-performer Gaël Le Cornec introduces the play as a young girl's magical journey from a war-ravaged planet to a more peaceful one. Acting in her own person or through puppets, Le Cornec spends most of this section behind a screen, occasionally weakening the shadow magic through misjudging the optimum distance from the light source. Much of the journey is done in front of the screen, and some episodes aren't fully integrated into the plot. Then,when the girl reaches her destination, Le Cornec is subjected to ruthless and demeaning interrogation by a disembodied voice, able to reply only through pointing at words written on her body. That's a strong image of the helpless feeling of having to answer questions in a foreign language, but with its wholly new mode and darker tone it seems to be part of a different play than the one Le Cornec started the hour with.  Gerald Berkowitz
Out Of Our Father's House  Gilded Balloon   ****
Sketches for a feminist history of the United States are drawn by writers Eve Merriam, Paula Wagner and Jack Hofsiss from Merriam's book about lesser-known female heroes. From a 17th-century spoiled rich girl to a 20th-century businesswoman and journalist, the characterisations by four actress-singer-musicians share the theme of becoming aware of and in some cases escaping the culturally assumed limitations of their gender. While the earliest can only speculate on what ambitions she might have let herself have were she a man, most rebel against and a few triumph over external and internalised sexism. There's the 19th-century woman whose progressive father encouraged her education but whose highest praise was 'You should have been a boy,' and the 20th-centory businesswoman and writer who didn't set out to become the family breadwinner but is quietly pleased to discover she has. And for a select few, like the former slave turned civil rights campaigner or the labour organiser, the trivial inconveniences of gender become irrelevant. Smoothly directed by Marya Mazor, the cast of four move rapidly among several characters each, pausing from time to time to punctuate the narrative with traditional American folk songs that take on surprising feminist resonances in this context. Never strident or preachy, this is a gently persuasive reminder of what is too often left out of history books.  Gerald Berkowitz
Oxford Revue   Assembly  *
The last time two people kidnapped the Oxford Revue and used the title for their own show was in the 1970s, when the culprits were Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis. Somehow I suspect that this year's pair will not have as successful careers ahead. Most of the current show's satiric targets – Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, J K Rowling, The X Factor, H from Steps – are well past their find-a-good-joke-about dates, running gags like changing the performers' supposed names with each link are simply not funny, and a video sequence is dreary. At the second-week performance I saw, the audience walk-outs began around the half-hour mark, and really threw the pair off-stride, which is odd because they should have been used to it by then.  Gerald Berkowitz
Parish Fete-ality - A Game Of Scones  C Chambers Street     **
Bristol's Tobacco Tea Theatre attempt a parody of a Midsommer-style English country village mystery, but the humour is strained and the production lacks the sharpness and pacing a satire requires. People are dropping like flies in the village of Jowlhurst, and for once there is no lone killer. Like many peaceful-looking villages it is filled with disputing factions, and the standard method for dealing with your foes on the Council or unfriendly neighbours seems to be to eliminate them by shooting, poisoning, choking or even more arcane methods – 'By the time we scraped the jam off him it was too late'. No sooner do we meet some of the village's colourful residents – the sex-mad squire and his sex-mad family, the megalomaniac vicar and the like – than somebody who doesn't like them bumps them off. But, as directed by playwright and company co-founder Christopher Cutting, this is neither effective satire or funny in itself. That line about the jam is the best and almost the only real joke in the script, and the small cast, playing two or three roles each, distinguish among them by making them all extreme caricatures, without a hint of an anchor in reality or in the archetypes of the genre. Actors look too often like they're not sure where on stage they should be standing, and pacing throughout is languid and haphazard, delays generated by costume changes and the like leading to gaps between scenes.  Gerald Berkowitz
Partial Nudity   Zoo  ***
A modest little comedy with a sting in its tale, Emily Layton's Partial Nudity has things to uncover about male assumptions and female assertiveness. A small-town amateur stripper makes a few quid entertaining hen parties at the local pub, but tonight there's a stag party as well, and he has to share what passes for a dressing room with a female stripper. Strutting like a bantam cock he tries in turn to impress her, seduce her, insult her or treat her like a professional colleague, only to be shot down each time by the no-nonsense coldness of a real professional who is there to do a job, get paid and go home. Along the way each exposes just enough about their inner lives to let us see their humanity and even vulnerability, so both end the play more understood and sympathetic than they were at first. Joe Layton captures all the guy's ridiculousness but also a basic innocence that keeps anything he says or does from offending, while Kate Franz allows just enough hints of softness and unhappiness to slip past the girl's armour to make her complex and fascinating. It's a small play with nothing earth-shaking to tell us, but it says what it wants to say entertainingly and serves as a strong vehicle and showcase for two attractive performers.  Gerald Berkowitz

A Play, A Pie and A Pint: Conflict In Court   LeMonde Hotel  ***   (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
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

Playing Maggie   Pleasance   *****   (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
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
Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally   Pleasance   ****
A small story is brought alive through playwright Kevin Armento's original approach to it and by an energetic and eclectic staging in One Year Lease Theatre's Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally (which, to get it out of the way, is evidently a mnemonic used in algebra classes). The algebra teacher confiscates a student's phone and, after returning it, impulsively texts him, and before either of them can keep track of what's happening, they're in the middle of a brief affair. The playwright keeps this potentially sordid story light by telling it in the voice of the phone, reporting with wonder on what its camera is seeing and its screen reading, and there are comic lines, like the phone referring to a pocket as its studio apartment, and plot twists, like the teacher's boyfriend and the lad's mother both completely misreading what's happening, in different ways. Meanwhile director Ianthe Demos, with choreographer Natalie Lomonte, creates a constantly fluid movement in which individual cast members or the whole group take turns being the voice of the phone, peeping at, reacting to and swirling around the principals. The mix of dance, mime and Story Theatre takes the play away from deep drama to create a celebration of theatrical energy that offers assurance that all will turn out pretty much all right. Gerald Berkowitz

Police Cops   Pleasance Dome   *****   (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
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
Queen Lear   Assembly Roxy   ***
Ropnnie Dorsey has written a touching tribute to women's ability to bond over shared pain and disappointment, and rather arbitrarily and unconvincingly attached it to Shakespeare, to no great effect. A queen is undergoing an extremely painful labour, tended by a devoted servant and a doctor, the latter having a secret never really integrated into the rest of the play. As the queen's pains become unbearable she begs first that they kill her if necessary to save the baby and then just that they kill her. The other two wrestle with the implications of this and ultimately reach a decision. It isn't until more than halfway through the hour that we are told that this is the wife of Shakespeare's Lear, and even later that we understand what is at stake as she is desperate to give him a son after three daughters. Other than passing mention of Lear being an unpleasant man and young Cordelia being bullied by her sisters, Queen Lear gains no resonances from the Shakespearean connection and offers none back. Its strength lies in its portrait of a generic woman in physical and spiritual pain, and in the moving performances of Jane Goddard and Mary McCusker as the all-but-helpless witnesses and especially of Alice Allemano as the woman whose desperation drives her to welcome the death she fears. Gerald Berkowitz

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The Red Shed   Traverse   ****
Comedian and activist – and the two are not labels that frequently go together – Mark Thomas offers a salute to the institution that got him started on both paths, The Wakefield Socialist Club, housed literally in a red shed and celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. Part social club and bar, part venue for radical speakers, part a symbolic home, it houses memories and inspirations that Thomas skilfully turns into funny and occasionally moving stories. His hour is built on two narrative spines, of going back to Wakefield and reuniting with old friends and comrades, and of being inspired by an old half-memory set during the miners' strike to track down the true story. Thomas's political commitment and righteous anger are never far below the surface, but his performer's instincts keep that surface light and entertaining, and he's at his best when he can blend the two – as when a present-day anecdote is interrupted by someone racing into the Red Shed bar, demanding an instant beer and blurting 'Did you see who they've made Foreign Secretary?' It helps to be sympathetic to Thomas's political position, but it's not necessary, and the only ones likely to be bothered by his show are those of any political persuasion who think it's all far too serious to laugh about.  Gerald Berkowitz
The Remains of Tom Lehrer
Gilded Balloon   ***
American satirical singer-songwriter Tom Lehrer has an enduring appeal. His wit rarely feels dated and can often be incisive, while his parodic music is generally spot on. Adam Kay goes beyond playing the piano and singing a series of Lehrer’s greatest hits, though he does deliver a good number in the hour. In addition, Kay presents a limited biography of a mathematician whose status as a prodigy must have been confirmed when he entered Harvard aged 15. Kay also updates songs and creates his own new versions, particularly refining the “Elements Song” in at least four versions. The highlights are generally predictable, “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”, “Masochism Tango” and “We Will all go Together When we go” as pleasurable as ever, even with the sometimes clunky but occasionally very funny updated versions. Lesser-known ditties such as “National Brotherhood Week” also amuse. Overall, Adam Kay pleases when he sticks to the originals (although he doesn’t attempt the accent) but does Tom Lehrer fewer favours when he tries to improve upon the originals, which generally need no help, even when some references would now mean little to us today.  Philip Fisher
Revolt, She Said. Revolt Again.   Traverse   *** 
The flyers say that Alice Birch's new play, here produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, 'examines the language, behaviour and forces that shape women'. I think it is both more tightly focused and broader in its implications. The text is a string of separate interactions among characters we won't see again, with the most apparent common thread being the power and danger of language – power because its effects are as real as any physical force, and danger because it is imprecise and ambiguous. What is intended by a speaker may not be what is heard by a listener, and the effects will be real regardless. A couple sitting at opposite sides of the stage flirt, their sex talk slipping into corrections of grammar and vocabulary, as exactly how something is expressed carries implications of power and control. A man proposing marriage is rejected because what means love, commitment and happiness to him translates as surrender to patriarchal domination to her. A mother who abandoned her family retains what control she has over the outcome by refusing to talk about it, even at the expense of emotionally damaging her daughter and granddaughter. That there are women involved in every sequence is of course significant, but even at the play's most gender-aware, the primary tool of both repression and rebellion is language. The problem is that the play itself is written in language, and I have made it sound more coherent than it actually is. Some sequences drown in language, others are too spare to be clear, and by the end there is a lot of shouting and everyone talking at once as the play, perhaps intentionally, descends into empty noise.  Gerald Berkowitz
The Road To Huntsville   Summerhall   **   (Reviewed in London)
Writer-performer Stephanie Ridings, or a fictionalised version of herself, was intrigued and amused by stories of women writing to convicted murderers in America's Death Rows, falling in love with them and even marrying them as they awaited execution. But as she researched the syndrome she found herself - or, as a creative writer, imagines herself – falling into it, writing to a Texas prisoner, visiting him and even considering marriage. The spine of Ridings' story is the central irony of the speaker's complete conversion, but both as writer and actress she has difficulty navigating the many changes in character, tone and performance style. The ridicule and ironic comedy of the opening gives way too abruptly to objective reporting, polemic (in several digressions on the morality of capital punishment), romantic fantasy and rude awakening. Meanwhile the production mode also keeps changing, from Dave Gorman-style mock Power Point presentation, to documentary use of film and talking heads, to narration, to melodramatic acting. The writer-actress and director Jonathan V. McGrath give us too little guidance through these constant changes and too little preparation for which version of the woman we are seeing at any moment. I saw the show during its pre-Edinburgh tour, and some of these awkward clashes of tone and style may be smoothed out by the time you see it, perhaps earning it an additional star, but what I saw was a complete rewrite away from success.    Gerald Berkowitz

Saturday Night Forever   Underbelly Med Quad   ****
In a curious way this monologue play by Roger Williams, performed sensitively by Delme Thomas, is is a companion piece to Fabric (see review). In both, someone thrilled to have found real happiness in life and love has it violently taken away in a manner that raises the question of how real and safe it was to begin with. Here the speaker is Lee, an amiable Cardiff gay man who drifts away from his partner because the guy is too compulsively into the party scene and Lee is looking for something quieter, settled and long-lasting. After the mild comedy of a dry spell, Lee meets someone new who shares his interests, his sense of humour, his taste for evenings in and his desire for a long-term relationship – and is a dish, to boot. And then one night they walk down a dark street and some drunks are coming in the other direction, and the world comes to an end. Physical wounds healed and mourning underway, Lee must face a world in which the existence of people like the attackers makes happily-ever-after too fragile a dream for him to believe any more. As directed by Kate Wasserberg, Delme Thomas not only takes Lee believably through an extraordinary range of emotions but gives a performance of great subtlety and effect, expressing complex emotions with the slightest adjustment in a smile or twitch of a hand.  Gerald Berkowitz
Scorched   Zoo Southside   ***
In Lisle Turner's Scorched, news reports of the 1991 Gulf War send a Second World War veteran back into memories of his own experiences in the North African campaign. Some are presented with striking theatrical invention, as when cartoon projections onto his body evoke the home-made tattoos of young soldiers. Later the entire demob experience, from the arrival back in Britain through the first fish and chips, first dance, first knee-trembler and first child to home and family, sweetly evoked in a sand castle, is mimed in the course of a single Benny Goodman record. Sand has a recurring role in the play's imagery, connecting later memories to the desert experience that led to them, and the sometimes surprising ways sand finds its way into Andrew Purvin's otherwise realistic domestic set help create a fluid movement between reality and memory. But some sequences are opaque either in meaning or in relevance to the war theme, and only a press release explains what the performance itself doesn't, that we are meant to be seeing what are in fact irrelevant bits of the man's memory being jumbled in because a dementia that is not otherwise evident can't keep him focussed. Failure to communicate that is director Claire Coaché and actor Robin Berry's one big misstep in what is otherwise a quietly evocative portrait of the persistence of memory.  Gerald Berkowitz

Screw Your Courage! (or The Bloody Crown)   Greenside Infirmary Street   ***
American actress Klahr Thorsen sets out to tell the story of her lifelong ambition to play Lady Macbeth, and ends up capturing larger truths about the actor's life. She begins with Shakespeare's witches cursing the child who will never have her mentally ill mother's love with the need to search for its replacement in acting roles and audience applause. Thorsen goes on to mix Macbeth quotations with her own cod-Shakespeare and natural speech, taking herself through acting school, workshops, an aborted self-produced Macbeth production, and a side trip to Scotland for spiritual recharging, to an actual one-off performance of the Scottish play at London's Globe, all on an essentially bare stage. Along the way she observes and plays a string of wickedly sketched comic caricatures, from the dim acting school stud through the confidence-shaking director and an amiably drunk Scot, to a London luvvie. Thorsen is telling her own personal story, but perhaps without her fully realizing it her experience, as she presents it, sounds like only a minor variant on both the psychology and career stages of many young actors, and it is the broader vision of a life made up of neediness, ambition, dedication and even obsession that audiences are more likely to respond to. Screw Your Courage! could be an exhortation to all young actors, and resonates most fully as the story of all young actors.  Gerald Berkowitz

Shake  Lyceum Theatre     ****
Eat A Crocodile's antic deconstruction of Twelfth Night, performed mostly in French, is actually respectful to the play's festive spirit if free with the application of comic filigree around the core. The character list is cut to accommodate a cast of five, with the editing and doubling actually raising interpretive insights. Doubling Viola and Sebastian has been done before, but having the same actor, Antonio Gil Martinez, play Orsino and Malvolio reminds us that both are somewhat foolish lovers, and reducing Sir Andrew to a ventriloquist's dummy operated by Vincent Berger's Sir Toby is a vivid assessment of their relationship. A vaguely modern setting in front of a row of beach huts suggests that Viola is not the only one dressing up, with Valérie Crouzet's supposedly mourning Olivia in a new elegant gown and wig for every scene, and lets Orsino's musical tastes run comically to 1950s lounge music. Geoffrey Carey's languid Feste is a beach attendant who has seen it all and who occasionally exposes his attitude by choosing the music on the record player or pausing things for a string of music hall jokes in English. Malvolio is more a socially inept nerd than a stiff-necked prude, which makes the practical joke on him seem particularly cruel. Delphine Cogniard plays Viola with a hangdog expression and narrow range of emotions for too much of the play, but her gamin quality – she is a head shorter than the rest of the cast – carries her smoothly through the role of romantic heroine.  Gerald Berkowitz

Shakespeare For Breakfast   C Chambers Street   ****
Twenty-five years ago a Fringe company with an open morning slot put together a Shakespeare pastiche and parody, luring audiences in with free croissants. It is now a Fringe staple, though with a new script and cast each year, the two constants being a happily irreverent attitude toward Shakespeare and the free croissants. This year's edition is not one of the truly great ones, which means that it is merely pretty darned good and a lot of fun. A Midsummer Night's Dream, which is silly enough to begin with, is filtered through twenty-first century pop culture along with a salute to the show's anniversary in a smattering of 1990's references. So the four lovers act like escapees from Made In Chelsea, Bottom and his fellow actors have all auditioned for one TV talent show or another, and Oberon has survived a couple of typos to become Obi-wan. Accurate Shakespearean dialogue is likely to morph into 'nineties song lyrics or Facebook/Twitter jargon without warning, and the multiple-role-playing cast of five make the challenges of changing costumes or characters part of the joke. The only things keeping this from classic status is that once you establish the comic premise a lot of the jokes are predictable and that some of the inserted topical references and gags have a curiously dated feel, as if borrowed from some older script. Still, there's a lot to enjoy here, along with the famous croissants, making Shakespeare For Breakfast an excellent start to a Fringe-going day.  Gerald Berkowitz

Save on a Great Hotel!

Shylock   Assembly Roxy   *****     (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
Stack   Bedlam   ***
Ed MacArthur's all-but-solo show is so clever and engaging in its silliness that, even as you suspect that it is a perhaps twenty-minute sketch stretched a little too thin to fill an hour, you are willing to go along with it. Writer, composer and provider of all pre-recorded offstage voices as well, MacArthur plays a celebrity explorer and documentary film maker who is his own biggest fan. He's here to tell us of his most recent expedition to find a lost South American tribe, a journey only slightly marred by his tendency to accidentally kill his colleagues along the way and by the interference of the rival explorer who is his arch enemy not least for sleeping with his ex-wife. What we realize by that point is an absolutely characteristic string of accidents has him not only discover the tribe but find himself installed as prophet-king, happily addicted to a native drug that has the convenient side effect of making him able to speak and understand their tribal language and thus get along happily with the native bride played by Annie McGrath. MacArthur captures the comical dimness and unshakable ego of the character with a high energy performance that almost succeeds in disguising how little material there really is here and how one-note and repetitious the gags. In short, the kind of show you'll enjoy most of the way through and forget almost immediately after – which, by Fringe standards, is pretty good. Gerald Berkowitz

Stamp   Zoo Southside   **
A perennial Fringe staple – there are at least two this year; see In Fidelity – is the mock TV game show designed to combine some easy satire of an easy target with the embarrassment of audience volunteers. This modest representative of the genre comes complete with smarmy MC, grinning assistants, deliberately cheesy set and cued audience responses. The premise is a battle of the sexes, in which actual genders are irrelevant, one side of the audience arbitrarily designated as men and the other as women, and a representative of each brought onstage to take various tests as their side cheers them on. The whole thing, we are reassured, is done in good fun, and as volunteers the onstage pair deserve everything that happens to them, and the audience does work up a frenzy that can feel like entertainment. But manage not to get caught up in the faux-excitement and the whole thing looks old and tired.  Gerald Berkowitz

Stories To Tell In The Middle Of The Night   Summerhall   ****   (Reviewed in London)
A collection of short stories, or ideas for stories, or sketches of characters who might someday fit into a story, is brought together in a solo performance by writer-actress Francesca Millican-Slater that transcends the inevitable unevenness of the material to create an evocative dream-like hour. Using the frame of an all-night radio monologist filling the dark hours, Millican-Slater tells a dozen tales of small people's small lives. Some, like the would-be sleepers kept awake by neighbours' loud music, are little more than the ideas for stories she hasn't actually written yet. Some, like the woman finding almost pornographic fascination in violence, are nicely-imagined characters in search of a story. But at her best she creates complete and self-contained miniatures that evoke whole realities. A bickering couple come together through the shared sensuality of grocery shopping. A dying man redecorates his home in his friend's execrable taste before leaving it to him. An apparent serial stalker turns out to have the instincts of a matchmaker. As performer Millican-Slater may move about the stage and change her vocal delivery a bit arbitrarily, and is at her best when she just sits or stands there and lets her soothing voice transport the audience into each of the little worlds she conjures up.  Gerald Berkowitz

Stunning The Punters  Spotlites  ****
George Dillon is an actor of broad gestures and larger-than-life effects in the Steven Berkoff mode, which is to say that he writhes, grimaces, swoops his voice up and down in volume and timbre, slides in and out of slow motion and has exaggerated gestures for every phrase. It can be a revelation for those who know only restrained naturalistic acting, and his first piece in this three-part program, Berkoff's Master Of Cafe Society, showing an embittered out-of-work actor's daily routine, is an excellent showcase for Dillon's mastery of the style. As if to prove he's no one-trick pony, Dillon plays Robert Sproat's Stunning The Punters in a much more subdued mode, allowing the monologue of a petty criminal convinced he's changing the world carry its own weight. The longest part of the evening, Dostoevsky's Dream Of A Ridiculous Man, is also the weakest as Dillon attempts to apply some of the techniques of the Berkoff to the story of a man driven mad, not by demons, but by the vision of a perfect world. Unfortunately Berkoff mannerisms, while not limited only to Berkoff texts – the man himself does Poe brilliantly – do require material able to support them, and even the toned-down Berkoff style of the Dostoevsky too often just looks like overacting. However uneven the program is, it is a valuable introduction to what will be for many an unfamiliar, but demonstrably powerful performance style. Gerald Berkowitz

Swansong  Pleasance     ****
A post-apocalyptic vision of an original sort, Dugout Theatre's Swansong finds its way from an almost comic premise to a convincing note of modest hope. When the ice caps melt and the Earth is flooded, four unlikely people find themselves in the unlikely refuge of a swan-shaped pedalo in the middle of the sea. Inevitably they're a disparate group: an amiably blokeish guy, a pessimistic intellectual, a sports and fitness fanatic, and a meditating new-age vegan. They get past the personality clashes pretty quickly when they realize that, should they ever find land, they have the opportunity and obligation to create a new world, taking the best of the old and not repeating its mistakes. They set out to create a somewhat idiosyncratic new world order, and the choices they decide on, and the choosing process itself, enjoyably make up much of the hour, while flash-forwards to an even more distant future in which their adventure becomes the basis for a new religion happily reassure us that all will be well, if just a bit silly. The script by Sadie Spencer and Tom Black offers equal opportunities for gentle character comedy, social satire and serious moral debate, and the four performers – Ed Macarthur, Tom Black, Nina Shenkman and Charlotte Merriam – have fun with the stereotypes they've been given to work with while nicely individualizing and rounding them out.  Gerald Berkowitz
Sweet Child Of Mine   Gilded Balloon     *
Australian performance artist Bron Batten has been touring this show, appearing with her father, for several years, but he dropped out at short notice, forcing her to employ a guest star dad for each performance. This produces what she evidently does not realize or care are some very uncomfortable moments, as when the fake father shares intimacies about his – i.e. her real father's – relationship with his father, and when she and the substitute recreate the moment earlier this year when she discovered that he – the real father – had succumbed to the severe depression that made him unable to be here himself. But even without those borderline lapses in taste, Batten has little to offer that is fresh or unique. She does some unimpressive interpretive dance, interviews her parents on video, tells us about her life, mimes being a chicken in front of a film of an egg-laying played backwards, and rolls around in a puddle of blue paint, things performance artists and their audiences got bored with forty years ago. The general theme of the show is that while her parents, who seem rather nice people in the video segments, don't have a clue what it is that she spends her life doing, that's their loss, because she is an Artist. If by chance you do not share Batten's high opinion of herself, you will find little here to hold you.  Gerald Berkowitz

Swivelhead   Pleasance     ***l
Do those who go mad get to choose their brand of madness? In Swivelhead, it is clear from the start that a super-macho RAF officer is fighting to retain his self-control and self-image, so it is no spoiler to report that he's going to lose. It would be a spoiler to say how, because it is oddly a form of delusion he might have chosen for himself. Playwright Jon Welch sets most of the action in a 'chair force' control room, where the officer and a junior watch, guide and if necessary shoot from drones over an enemy area. The senior man's sexual boasting and talk of manly hobbies smack of protesting too much, while his psychosomatic skin condition, flashbacks to the loneliness of boarding school and unease about his beloved sister's impending wedding all point toward cracks in his veneer. The playwright is fair enough to show that the job is stress-filled, as even the junior officer is shaken when they have to send the drone into action, and actor Ben Dyson as the officer never loses audience sympathy even as his behaviour becomes more erratic, so that when he finds his own personal mental escape we can even feel a little happy for him. A more elaborate set than is the Fringe norm suggests future plans for this production.  Gerald Berkowitz

Teatro Delusio  Pleasance  *****
Berlin-based Familie Flöz is a mask-and-mime company in the tradition of Britain's Trestle Theatre, creating purely theatrical magic by making inanimate masks seem to come alive and develop personalities. The performers wear larger than lifesize cartoonish heads, carefully designed to be blank of expression in a way that enables the actors' body language to create the illusion of changing facial emotions. Teatro Delusio is set backstage in a concert hall, as the stagehands go about their work or react to the passing musicians, opera singers and ballerinas. Inevitably episodic, since the few performers double and quadruple roles, the action rages from classic slapstick, as when an inept stagehand struggles with a ladder, through quiet beauty, as each of the workers in turn gets to imagine himself performing with one of the stars, to enjoyable nastiness as they find ways to take revenge on the more arrogant or nasty of the onstage figures. Meanwhile a constant parade of once-seen figures, from orchestra members to a cleaning lady, each have a moment of comedy or drama. Revelatory and thrilling the first time you encounter it, this style loses only a little of its charm when the novelty wears off, and Teatro Delusio, which by its very nature encounters no language barriers, is a sure audience pleaser. Gerald Berkowitz

The Trunk   Underbelly George Square   ****
In The Trunk writer-performer Max Dickins turns a sweet little anecdote into a resonant rumination on the nature of memory and of the stories we choose to hold onto and those we choose to forget. He plays a junior clerk in a coroner's office handling the paperwork on an old woman who died alone, her only notable estate being a trunk of old letters and memorabilia and a fresh letter evidently meant for a child she gave up for adoption. The speaker sets off to find that perhaps unaware next-of-kin, a process that begins with learning what he can about the mother. And here is where Dickins deftly expands on the small story, as every step raises larger thoughts about how we lose or hold on to the past. He learns that the woman enjoyed telling tall tales about herself, making everything he uncovers suspect. An estranged sister is clearly hiding family secrets. One line of inquiry takes him to Bletchley Park, opening resonant imagery of secrets broken and kept, and through all of this the speaker's grandfather is beginning to succumb to dementia, a reminder of our tenuous hold on the past. As performer Dickins tells the story with grace and good humour, and sensitively captures the excitement of someone who increasingly senses that he's doing something meaningful and that it is important to him to complete the quest. Gerald Berkowitz
Two Man Show   Summerhall   *****
One of the most exciting, inventive and beautiful shows on the Fringe, RashDash's exploration of gender and power is the very model of chance-taking theatre that pays off. Performer-writers Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland, supported musically by Becky Wilkie, use drama, comedy, mime, music and dance as they take turns playing women, men, one of each, and women-stronger-than-men as a way of asserting that femaleness need not be imitation maleness to be powerful. At one point they employ distorting microphones that give them little-girl voices, at another they break the frame to remind themselves which gender they're being just then. Several sequences of self-choreographed dance are beautiful in themselves and effective expressions of bonding and power – all the more so since the two dancers are stripped to the waist for most of them and totally nude for others, and the effect is more evocative of ancient Greek athletes than of eroticism. An extended and passionate speech asserting female power impresses both as an irrefutable argument and as a demonstration of the performer's remarkable ability to sustain the unwavering intensity. This is 'Theatre of Cruelty' of the highest order, using every tool, both violent and seductive, in the artists' toolbox to break through or bypass any audience resistance with overwhelming effect.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Unknown Soldier   Assembly Hall   ***   (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
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

The View From Castle Rock   St Mark's Church   ***
Alice Munro, author of the short stories on which this dramatization is based, is Canadian but the Laidlaw family, who may well be her ancestors, hail from the land of the Ettrick shepherd, James Hogg. The adaptation by Linda McLean links the two continents, as six members of the clan head west from the Borders in search of a new life, and in the almost certain knowledge that they will never again see their native Scotland. Every one is a character, starting with Lewis Howden’s grumpy James Senior, a patriarch of the kind who sees the past through rose-tinted glasses. Of the rest, the most sympathetic is tiny Mary, Nicola Jo Cully portraying an old maid in the making, who is devoted to her tiny nephew, which is more than can be said for his resentful mother. The tale is told through shared narration as much as direct speech, with relatively little formal staging. Some of the sea scenes are dramatic, but the main reason for trying this Stellar Quines production, which is supported by both the Fringe and Book Festival, is the chance to understand the difficulties faced by those emigrating to America 200 years ago. Philip Fisher

Villain   Underbelly Medical Quad     ****
A young woman remarkable only in having more of a social conscience than many wakes up one day to find herself vilified in the press, pursued by paparazzi and damned by internet trolls. Villain eventually tells us why, and in general terms it is easily guessed early on, but the bulk of the hour is devoted to the ordinary and happy life that the woman led before the sky fell in on her. The thrust of Martin Murphy's play and Maddie Rice's performance is that it really can happen to anyone, even someone who, after the good fortune of finding a well-paying job right out of university, chose to turn instead to good works, becoming a social worker and taking real pleasure in the little she could do for the families she visited. In telling her story the playwright repeatedly approaches the dark turning point only to pull back, and the actress uses these opportunities to show a mind gathering up its courage to address what it knows it must. Performing in transverse in a small room, Rice is always just inches from some in the audience, and effectively pitches her performance someplace between conversation and internal monologue. When the play finally does face the dragon it may be a little too rushed and abrupt, but up to that point things move at exactly the pace to keep the audience's attention and sympathy. 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
William Shakespeare's Long-Lost First Play (Abridged)  Pleasance    ****
The guys – or at least two of them, plus a newby – who started it all in 1981 by putting parodies of all the plays into The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged have found an excellent excuse for a second bite of the apple. The fledgeling playwright, they posit, poured all his imagination into one enormous and until now lost first play, in which all his characters co-exist and from which he later extracted bits and pieces to become plays of their own. The premise has Puck and Ariel as rival sprites one-upping each other in magical mischief by bringing characters we know from different plays together. And that is the excuse for letting Lady Macbeth nag Hamlet into making his mind up about something, Falstaff offer his kingdom for a whore, and a stage-struck Richard determine to be a vaudevillian. The comic juxtapositions, gags and shameless puns come by so quickly that you barely have time to groan at the last one, and every once in a while something actually makes you pause and think, like letting Macbeth's witches double as Lear's daughters or setting up pairings to prove that The Lion King is not the only Disney film based on Shakespeare. This kind of Shakespearean mash-up may no longer be unique to the RSC but there's no denying that they do it best.  Gerald Berkowitz
The Winter Gift   Space On The Mile   ***
The Winter Gift tells the story – or, rather, two separate parts of the story of Louise Brooks, star of the iconic silent film Pandora's Box. Scenes of the making of the film in 1928 are set in the frame of a 1955 visit to the older Brooks by a representative of the Eastman Film Museum, an occasion that would (spoiler alert!) end with her receiving a pension honouring her contribution to film and going on to be a valuable memoirist and film historian. The real interest lies in the 1928 scenes, as we watch German director G W Pabst recognizing and using Louise's natural talent and enigmatic beauty to create an extraordinary film. Unfortunately everyone in this part of the play is in whiteface and directed to play broad cartoons – Marlene Dietrich (who was briefly considered for the role) parades around in her underwear talking baby talk with a cod German accent – and appropriately enough for a play about an actress with a very natural style, it is the rare moments when the Rogue'z Company actors are allowed to behave like real human beings that the play comes alive. At least one star is for introducing some in the audience to Louise Brooks; the play and production are otherwise barely up to Fringe standards.  Gerald Berkowitz
Wrecked   Assembly   ***
Four times a day an audience of six sits in a damaged car as the driver wakes up and tries to remember what brought her here. The story she pieces together involves being fascinated by a charismatic petty criminal and eventually joining her in minor and then major law-breaking, leading to a disastrous attempt to escape the police. Playwright Jonathon Carr reaches for some psychological depth in Wrecked, by suggesting a lifelong tendency in the woman to search for heroes and protectors, and there are random hints that not everything she tells us is accurate or even true. But the car wreck itself comes at the very end of the narrative and is not really central to either the story or the characterization, and it can't fully escape the suspicion of just being a gimmick. Actress Kristy Bruce does pitch her performance effectively to the very intimate setting while developing the text's suggestions into a believable and sympathetic character. But those who have never experienced a production in such an unconventional setting (and Edinburgh does seem to have a play of some sort set in a car every couple of years) are likely to go away, six at a time, remembering 'that play in the car' more than the story or performance.  Gerald Berkowitz

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(Some of these reviews originally appeared, in different form, in The Stage)

Reviews - Edinburgh Festival 2016 

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