Edinburgh 2004
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The Theatreguide.London Reviews

EDINBURGH 2004

We reviewed more than 160 shows at the 2004 Festival and Fringe. Our reviews were originally spread over several pages, but we've crowded them all onto two pages for this archive. They're in alphabetical order (solo performers by last name), with A-M on the first page and N-Z on this one. Scroll down for what you're looking for, or just browse.



Steve Nallon's Adventures in Wonderland Roman Eagle Lodge - Armed only with his voice, charm and an enviable feel for his story, impressionist Steve Nallon launches into one of the most magical re-tellings you will see of Lewis Carroll's surreal classic. A human carousel of characters, Nallon plucks them at will to bring Alice and her loopy co-stars to life. Robin Williams becomes the White Rabbit, Kenneth Williams the Dodo, Ann Widdecombe the Duchess, David Beckham the Dormouse and, in a masterstroke of casting, Homer Simpson pontificates as the Caterpillar and Johnny Vegas morphs into Humpty Dumpty. Even Julie Andrews, Basil and Sybill Fawlty and Ozzy Osbourne get a look in for reasons I can't quite fathom but continue to chuckle over. And it is not all burlesque ­ there is some subtle stuff going on here if you concentrate. When Alice starts to shrink, Nallon has her descend the social scale, thereby going from posh Penelope Keith (To the Manor Born) via a middle-class Maggie Smith to a very lower working-class Caroline Aherne (The Royles). Curiouser and curiouser ­ and clever too when, as she gets larger again, Alice goes through a Patricia Routledge-as-Mrs Bucket phase. All quite logical really. Magically paced and vividly presented, Nallon's impressions find unexpected humour in material that is already eternally comic. Nick Awde

Nikolina Pleasance - What is it about young theatre companies and the Balkan war? Unlimited Theatre built their Fringe career on the subject matter in the 1990s. Now almost ten years after the war's end, nabokov theatre company drums up the ghosts of recent history too. The twist here is that the play focuses on a Serbian in Britain - Nikolina, a former war rape victim serving drinks in some dingy bar. The problem arises when unwittingly she gets entangled into a love triangle between three young professionals, whereby Dale, who's been having an affair with his best mate's lawyer girlfriend, falls in love with Nikolina. Van Badham's play is dramaturgically faultless, featuring skilful stark flashbacks into Krajina's warscape and flash-forwards into flash Sheffield apartments. Director James Grieve deals with this structure through neat yet eloquent scene changes on takis' noticeably effective set, and accompanied by Lee Wilson's authentic soundtrack. The piece is high on production values and Badham's accomplished script leads us to believe that revenge and brutality are a universal phenomenon which will have Nikolina raped wherever male pride is at stake. Duska Radosavljevic

Nine Days Crazy Pleasance Dome - In writer-actor Chris Goode's latest solo play, a fictional writer-actor named Chris Goode, depressed by a frustrating experience with an Eastern European director who defines comedy as tragedy plus suffering and death, accepts a drunken challenge to duplicate Will Kemp's 1599 stunt of Morris dancing from London to Norwich. It turns out that Kemp cheated, but as our hero innocently makes his way along the A and B roads, bells jingling and kerchiefs waving, increasingly footsore and thigh-chaffed, the journey becomes a metaphor for a generally comic but frequently moving self-discovery. An encounter with an old boyfriend, a meeting with a potential new one, observations on traffic, pubs and people met along the way all deliver the quiet shock of recognised truth, as do Goode's inevitable mood shifts, comic observations and moments of introspection. The piece is beautifully written, with seemingly innocent lines and images planted early on resonating comically or evocatively when they reappear in new contexts later, and is performed with a charm and humanity that make Goode's geographical and emotional journeys well worth accompanying him on. Gerald Berkowitz

1933 And All That Hill Street Theatre (reviewed at a previous Fringe) - This recital by Anna Zapparoli of songs by Brecht, Weill and others is all the more pleasant for being predictable - there are few songs or poems that the fan will not have heard before on similar programmes. But you can't hear Surabaya Johnny, the Solomon Song, Pirate Jenny and the like too often, especially not when sung with as much grace and intelligence as Zapparoli brings to them. Less familiar songs, like the Brecht-Eisler Song of the Nazi Soldier's Wife and a couple by Wedekind, are particularly welcome additions, and backing by a small band led by Mario Borciani is strong and unobtrusive. No credit is given for the translations, which I haven't encountered before, but they are good, combining accuracy with singability. Gerald Berkowitz

Notes to the Motherland Hill Street Theatre - It would seem like foolproof material - an account, based on the performer/co-writer's own experience, of growing up in a Lithuanian-American family full of tales of the old country, and then discovering that nearly all of them were lies covering some dark secrets. But Paul Rajeckas, who wrote this with director George L. Chieffet, makes almost every possible misstep. As writer, he tells the story in a looping, digressive way that keeps its major revelations from scoring and, in fact, undercuts them by demonstrating that he was aware of some of the hidden facts, like his family's ingrained antisemitism, long before he claims to have been shocked by the discovery. Much of his performance consists of miming or responding, as various characters, to prerecorded dialogue. That's not an especially interesting thing to watch, as he seems to sense, since he tries to liven these scenes by playing too many of them as broad caricature. But a camp performance fights the serious material, and the repeated clash of tones is fatal to the piece's effectiveness. Gerald Berkowitz

Not I Assembly Rooms - One of the purest products of Samuel Beckett's exploration of how close to nothing he can put on stage and still create drama, this is the one in which virtually all we see in the darkness is a tightly pin-spotted mouth as it babbles away. And dramatic it certainly is, as Pauline Goldsmith talks, whispers and shrieks her way through a 20 minute monologue that, like much of Beckett, is far more clear and coherent than it seemed when it first appeared. (It is striking how the world has caught up with Beckett, and kids who study Waiting for Godot in school wouldn't believe how absolutely opaque it seemed 50 years ago.) What we hear is an old woman who has been physically or metaphorically silent all her life and who, perhaps in the moment of her death, finds her voice and revels in it. Voluptuously tasting words, racing through random thoughts that jockey for expression, thrillingly asserting the selfhood this new power gives her - this is as concentrated and complete a character study as any other writer could do in ten times the length. Andy Arnold's direction and Pauline Goldsmith's performance catch every nuance, clarify every moment and could not be bettered. Gerald Berkowitz (Pauline Goldsmith subsequently won The Stage's Best Actress Award.)

Dara O'Briain Pleasance - It's so easy for Dara O'Briain. He doesn't have to lift a finger to work the overzealous crowd which breaks out into rapturous applause at the first flicker of a light change announcing the show's beginning. Not that he ignores it, for he'll take the energy coming from the floor and mould it into a most gratifying hour of mutual pleasure. His speed-of-light delivery and deftness at ad-libbing fit more into the show than seems humanly possible, making this a genuine best-buy ticket offer. And his material, covering anything from gym machines to nuances of religious rituals and possible purposes of koala bears, unfolds itself like a most digestible A-Z manual of being thirty-something. The underside of this is that he'll make the twenty-somethings look like hormonal philistines and back it up with the arguments that will make even the few members of this age group in his audience guffaw in whole-hearted approval. But ageism is his only attempt at taboo-breaking behaviour, for this man has graduated to stardom (as his set shows us) and has a bellowing crowd to prove it. Duska Radosavljevic

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Assembly Rooms - Ken Kesey's novel was actually a variant on a staple of fiction and drama in the 1940s and 1950s, the fable of a free spirit who enters a closed society (village, hospital, old folk's home) and, by refusing to play by the rules, shakes things up and liberates everyone. Kesey's twist - and it was exactly this that the cult that formed around the book in the 1960s blocked out - was to have his hero lose. This new production of Dale Wasserman's stage version actually makes that ending work better than in the film, to a great extent because Christian Slater resists any temptation to play Randall McMurphy as an irresistable force of nature in the Jack Nicholson mode. Instead, he's a life-sized, amiable guy just trying to get by when he elects to spend a short prison sentence in a psychiatric hospital. As a result, not only do we get to watch him grow into rebellion instead of coming on with guns blazing, but also Frances Barber doesn't have to play Nurse Ratched as the wicked witch of the west, but can give her the far more insidious calm of one who knows she has all the power. The production's problems have been well documented - the director who originated the project left, and a week of rehearsals and performances was lost to actor illnesses - and it shows in some rough edges. The cast hasn't really coalesced into an ensemble, with secondary characters either undefined or over-busy and distracting, and Slater is occasionally unsure of the tone he wants. But a new director has been brought in to polish things for the London transfer, so a lot of this should be cleaned up by then. Gerald Berkowitz

One Man Band Roman Eagle Lodge - John Melia's new play is earnest, well-intentioned and almost entirely predictable from its first minute to its last, and what power it might have had is sabotaged by direction and performances that are among the most amateurish to be seen on the fringe, either overacted and signifying to the point of caricature or underplayed to the point of invisibility. Three half-siblings who have never met are assembled for the reading of the will of the father they never met. Along also are their spouses who, in differing ways, are all abusive. Enter a fourth sibling who encourages the victims to recognise their plight and gives them the impetus to escape. There is simply no news here, and nothing in the production to make it come alive. Gerald Berkowitz

On Love and Lies C Venue - Another case in which the fact that author, producer, director and star are the same person is a warning sign, Mircha Mangiacotti's new play takes on the topics of parents and children, traditional and national prejudices, the immigrant experience, exploitation of refugees, friendship, crime, love and jealousy; and attempts to do so in a style that mixes realism with mime and dance. The result is something of a jumble which neither writer, director or performers can give coherent shape to. After lying to his traditional parents about his failure at university, a young immigrant man brings his girlfriend to London, where they live off the generosity of a friend while neither can find work. The promise of riches lures him into an illegal plot to help refugees stay in the country at the same time that unwarranted jealousy convinces him his girl is unfaithful. Scenes of plot development or confrontation are punctuated by sequences of dance and mime, but the basic requirements of story telling are rarely met, as characters (the parents) and plot lines (the crime) are raised only to be dropped without development, while personalities and relationships change from scene to scene. Direction and performances are both so tentative and hesitant that they give the impression of unskilled improvisation. Whatever the author-director-actor hoped for the play cannot survive inadequacies that leave it out of its class even by undemanding fringe standards. Gerald Berkowitz

The Packer Garage - Dianna Fuemana's script is in a familiar fringe genre, with one actor playing a half-dozen colourful characters to capture the flavour of a milieu as much as to tell a story. In this case Jay Bunyan, the current resident hunk on the TV soap Neighbours (a kind of Australian Dawson's Creek), plays a feckless young man more interested in partying than anything else, his alcoholic mother, his even more irresponsible friend, an old girlfriend, and his new neighbours, a randy Polynesian and his reserved daughter. Boy meets girl, mother meets father, and an evening of partying turns sour, leaving the boy with even less of a future than he might have had before. Weakening the play is Fuemana's decision to create and direct most of the characters as exaggerated cartoons so that, for example, the mother never without a drink in her hand or the friend trying to act like a black American are comic stereotypes too divorced from reality to register. The structure of the script also works against its complete success as for most of its length it seems to focus on the possible romance of the young couple, with a sudden and unexpected moment of violence taking it in a different direction. Jay Bunyan works hard at the characterisations and transformations, but has difficulty making any but the central young man come alive, and even that character undergoes changes that we are more told about than shown. The director seems not to have guided Bunyan too deeply into his characters, but rather to have let him rely on external signifiers like exaggerated accents or funny voices to distinguish among them, and not always successfully, as all the women share the same mincing walk and screeching voice. The piece does serve as a showcase for the actor's personality and energy, and satisfies the fans who know him from TV. But judged by the standard of other plays and performances of this type seen on the fringe in recent years, it is more a case of opportunities missed than success achieved. Gerald Berkowitz

Andy Parsons - Eat My Satire Assembly Rooms - I was not previously familiar with Andy Parson's work, but I'm told that this show is something of a departure from his previous style, as he reinvents himself as a sharp political critic in the mode of Mark Thomas except that, where Thomas is likely to take on one topic at a time, Parsons' hour is a rapid-fire attack on a wide range of subjects. The Prime Minister? Two or three zapping one-liners. The railroads? Bang, bang, bang. The Mars mission? Kill it quick and move on to something else. Every one of Parsons' attacks is based on solid fact and research, which gives his comic barbs full authority., as when he can quote the evidence that cows in the EU get a daily subsidy that is larger than the daily income of one-third of the world. And he shows his audience the respect of assuming that they can keep up with him - a running gag has him imagining that they're growing impatient that he hasn't gotten around to one erudite topic or another. While a few of his jokes are a bit aged (Keep the Elgin Marbles - give back Prince Philip), most of the material is sharp and timely, and the kill-them-quick-and-get-on-to-a-new-target style carries the show past the occasional dip and keeps the laughs coming. Gerald Berkowitz

Pete's View Sweet on the Royal Mile - Leila Berg's book Little Pete, which described daily life through the eyes of a five year old boy, has been dramatised by Lucy Anne Linger by imagining Pete grown up and so immersed in adult life that those childhood events are all but forgotten until a marital separation brings the painful loss of contact with his own son. Imagining what he is missing in the boy's growing up triggers his memory and episodes from Berg's book come back to him. And so he describes, with a combination of the child's innocence and the adult's nostalgia, a time when he thought of his shadow as a separate being with remarkable powers, when splashing in puddles in the rain was a thrilling adventure, and when adult authority always seemed to melt in the face of his openness and joy of life. The author directs David Jackson-Mayo to a skilful and sympathetic portrayal of both aspects of his character, the child's happiness and the adult's pain, and while the adult story might have been developed more fully, focus is appropriately on the happy source material, making for a touching but always affirmative experience. Gerald Berkowitz

Poochwater George Square Theatre - In one of the sadder only-in-Edinburgh stories, this modest little two-hander by Mike McPhaden was booked into a small venue whose management went bust just before the Festival, and was forced to transfer to a 600-seat theatre, where it played to audiences of 10 or fewer. While not a major work, it deserved a less depressing fate. A man finds a wallet and tries to return it to its owner, but in the process realises he's forgotten his own name. He works comically hard at trying to remember it, and then has a comic encounter of talking at cross purposes with the man he thinks is the owner. Anyone who hasn't figured out the climactic revelations (Hint: they have to do with unpleasant memories) within the first minute of the play is asleep, and setting it in the presumably more innocent world of the 1950s seems to add little. But some legitimate points about the nature of identity and the value of rational processes are raised, and there are a few legitimate laughs along the way. Gerald Berkowitz

The Powder Jars Lift at the Pleasance - One of a series of short plays written for performance in the intimate space of a 2 meter square lift, George Gotts' two-hander is part science fiction, part political thriller, part psychological mystery. As the audience of perhaps 15 file into the replica of a lift, two among them turn out to be the actors, Fiona Paul and Becky Wright, playing a pair of sisters in a kind of fallout shelter, hiding from a poisonous powder outside and staying awake in fear of the dangerous dreams that haunt them. Gradually we learn that both fears are based on a traumatic childhood experience, but whether that horror was real, dreamed or innocent-but-misinterpreted is ambiguous, and we are left with the possibility that the dangers the girls are hiding from are all of their own invention. The intimate setting adds undoubted power to the psychological study as the two actresses can make eye contact and a personal connection with each member of the audience, even leaning on one or another as the characters fight off sleep. But the direction is essentially static, with a single exchange of positions, too obviously designed to let everyone see both faces, practically the only movement the performers are allowed, and they begin the play on an intense level of nervousness which they rarely modulate or deviate from. Gerald Berkowitz

The Prisoner's Friend Hill Street Theatre - Based on the historical account of one of the more than 300 men executed for cowardice in the First World War, Peter Drake's script imagines the junior officer appointed as his token defense council moved by a letter from the man's grandson more than 60 years later to relive the events and the broader horrors of the war. Actor John Winter shows us a man who has clearly led a subdued and buttoned-up life - we will eventually learn that he is a retired village clergyman - for whom the emotions generated by the return to old memories are as strange and unsettling as the events recalled. Nearly half the hour is spent on the background to the crime and punishment itself, as the narrator resists memories and feelings long repressed - the naive patriotism that made young men eager to join up, the shock of encountering not only the horrible conditions of the trenches but the fact of death, the small graces and kindnesses of which the roughest men were capable. The question of the grandfather's guilt is left ambiguous - he did run away from an encounter with the enemy, but in conditions in which that may have been the appropriate thing to do - but the narrator's age, faith and rediscovered pain lead to a wise and emotionally satisfying judgment. The piece is slight in nature, quiet in presentation and appropriately moving in effect. Gerald Berkowitz

The Pull of Negative Gravity Traverse. - Jonathan Lichtenstein's new play gives full and cathartic expression to a painful discovery that is very pertinent to the British today, the fact that not all the casualties of war are on the battlefield. A Welsh farming family that already has more than its share of troubles - approaching bankruptcy, dead father, romantic triangle - is faced with the return of a soldier son badly wounded in the Gulf War. This last very heavy straw is more than the fragile family can bear, and each of the stay-at-homes ends the play as damaged as their son/brother/lover. There are strong performances all around, and the only criticism I can offer is that for a small portion of the audience this will be old news, since the American theatre, in the plays of David Rabe and others, faced and explored this subject thirty years ago, producing plays that may have been set in the American heartland rather than Wales but still looked very much like this one. Gerald Berkowitz

The Rap Canterbury Tales C Central - Like it says on the label. Former graduate student in medieval literature Baba Brinkman retells three of Chaucer's most familiar tales in rap style. The result is a mild curiosity, a nice middle-class white Canadian boy trying to sound like an inner-city American black man while not wearing his erudition too heavily, and the entertaining result is somewhat like Dr. Johnson's dog on his hind legs, remarkable not for its success but that it is accomplished at all. A newly invented frame, about stowing away on a rap concert tour bus and hearing the performers challenged to outdo each other in narrative raps, is the weakest part of the hour, with the performer-writer's efforts to move things into the Chaucerian structure particularly strained - one rapper is sponsored by Miller beer, the girl is reputed to be fun in the bath, and so on. When he gets to the tales themselves, Brinkman is on firmer ground, and he does succeed in translating the stories into the rhythms, internal rhymes and shifting verse lines of the rap format, though always at about half the speed you'd expect and never escaping the limitations and incongruity of white-boy rap. Still, it is mild fun, Brinkman himself is amiable, and the moment when his stowaway character is called upon to rap and offers a rhythmic lecture on the history of the oral poetry tradition is unforcedly educational. Gerald Berkowitz

Reader - I Married Him C Central - Angela Barlow's forty-minute solo show follows the familiar format of a fringe staple, the spoken autobiography of an historical or literary figure, in this case Charlotte Bronte. Barlow gives dramatic shape to the material by setting it on the eve of Bronte's marriage to a local clergyman and picturing the writer wondering whether, after living -at least in imagination - the passionate life of Jane Eyre, she can settle for being a country curate's wife. The question is answered in the end, but only after we have been told about Bronte's life, family and writing career. In the process, Barlow lets us discover a woman with more spark and spunk than her spinsterly exterior might suggest, enough at least to have come up with the scheme of writing her book under a man's name, and later of thoroughly enjoying her publisher's surprise when she appeared at his door. Barlow's Bronte is also enough of a romantic to imagine the romance of Jane Eyre, some of whose more passionate moments she reads to us, but also enough of a realist to know that she herself is not Jane. The play is slight but offers more of a sense of character than many of the genre, and the performance subtle and engaging. Gerald Berkowitz

Requiem for Ground Zero Pleasance (reviewed at an earlier festival) - Steven Berkoff's ruminations on September 11 are openly a work in progress, and the performance's variations from the published text indicate that the author-actor continues to work on a piece whose strongest sections are both moving and evocative. Writing in unobtrusively rhyming quatrains, Berkoff opens with a portrait of a New York morning with only the image of silver birds overhead spoiling a lightly comic picture. As he jumps to Boston and the beginnings of the fatal flights, he repeatedly uses Manhattan breakfasts as time markers, cementing the sense of connectedness, and uses his trademark mugging and broad playing to stress both the innocence of the soon-to-be victims and the spiritual foulness of their murderers. The whole first section of the one-hour piece is its strongest, with a precision of observation and imagery that brings alive the planes' passengers (oddly forgotten in much of the 9/11 mythos) and the human tragedy to come. Oddly, both writing and performance lose focus once Berkoff's account reaches the towers, with only generalised invocations of brave firemen and innocent secretaries, though the occasional telling image, such as seeing the first crash site as an obscene grin on the building's face, catches your heart and breath. Text and performance reach their nadir with some cheap and irrelevant parody of George W. Bush. It is clear that the second half of this Requiem is most in need of further development, but if Berkoff can shape it to the form and level of the opening section, the whole will be one of the most powerful of 9/11-inspired works. Gerald Berkowitz

Ripe Dance Base - Four mature dancers/choreographers - Namron, Stephen Pelton, Gary Lambert, Ellen van Schuylenburch - join forces in a poignant showcase of their most intimate experiences of the world. Whether dealing with devastating personal loss as in the case of the dancing legend Namron or going as far as reconstructing the movements of Adolf Hitler to the music of Romantic composers in Stephen Pelton's piece, they are each a study of immense precision in expressing even the most evasive of feelings. Namron's Missing, inspired by the loss of his father and his son, sets a meditative tone, with a hint of melancholy humour. Van Schuylenburch's Silence, a piece created ten years ago in India, follows on in the meditative and more curious vein. Although floor-bound to start with, it soon springs with life in a most inspiring journey of self-discovery and conquest. It is a tough act to follow and Pelton responds with his controversial yet masterfully presented The Hurdy-Gurdy Man. And Lambert's Degrees of Freedom - the most casual yet probably the most earnest of the four - concludes the bill that has received the most rapturous applause I have heard in a long time. Duska Radosavljevic

Ripped Roxy - Wes Hopper's half-hour play comes across as sub-Sam Shepard, with a young couple spending most of it talking at cross purposes while engrossed in their own bizarre obsessions. Tricked into buying a run-down house, the man spends his time planning but never quite getting around to making repairs because he keeps getting distracted by such things as his collection of old beer bottles. Meanwhile the woman sits around in her bathing suit and reminisces about a time she impressed the other kids by a particularly dangerous high dive. The fact that the neighbours are having a bonfire intrigues her and bothers him, so when she goes off to join the party, he engages in a ritual of self-mutilation to induce rain. Images of liquid run through the play, in the form not only of the old swimming hole and the rain, but in a story of a boy trapped in a well and in the several Cokes the man drinks. But while Sam Shepard can make such a mix of the naturalistic, the magical and the symbolic resonate, Wes Hopper can not, and neither cast nor audience give any indication of knowing what it all means. Gerald Berkowitz

The River Harry Younger Hall - Lucy Caldwell's sweet and engrossing little play is a study in purity retained despite the loss of innocence, and in the value of staying constant and the necessity eventually to move on.. A particular riverside setting is its central image, a place where the young child Rose shared beautiful moments with her father. But her father left, and as Rose grows up and brings a variety of other people to this spot, its magic becomes less and less possible to believe in, until eventually she herself must acknowledge that the past is irretrievably gone and must be left behind. Under Adele Thomas's delicate direction, Sara Lloyd believably and evocatively takes Rose from ages seven to seventeen, showing us a bright and self-aware child who can be innocent without being naive and who can keep a core of idealism even as she is affected by the world's corruptions, and then just as convincingly letting us see her realise that she has outgrown her need for this spot and its associations. A simple stage design effectively symbolises the passage of time and decay of Rose's fantasies by making the river and shore increasingly defaced by litter. Gerald Berkowitz

Rosebud Assembly Rooms - Christian McKay bears an uncanny resemblance to the young Orson Welles, and he can do the voice perfectly, so when this solo show written by Mark Jenkins opens with the unmistakable image of Harry Lime, you know that you can relax and give yourself over to it. And for much of its length the monologue delivers what it promises, not only a potted biography of Welles but a glimpse at his personality and at least the illusion of traveling back in time to the company of the man himself. McKay's Welles is delightful on the subject of his childhood, explaining convincingly that being told repeatedly by his adoring mother that he was a genius and perfect at everything he did, he naturally came to believe it. And, as he explains, assuming one is going to do great things is more than half the job. We're taken through what is for many familiar material - the forming of the Mercury Theatre at age 22, the War of the Worlds broadcast, the making of and reactions to Citizen Kane, the brief golden period and long decline that followed, the indignity of doing TV commercials to finance his later pictures. The one criticism to make of the script is that it somewhat skims over the last 40 years of Welles' life, exactly the period we would like a creative biographer to explain to us. But Jenkins never really tries to explain why the boy genius couldn't sustain his success, and we are left with the moving but still enigmatic image of McKay as a Welles who has blended into one of his favourite characters, the fat, comic and sad Falstaff. Gerald Berkowitz

Shakespeare for Breakfast C venue - This fringe perrenial is traditionally my first stop, as they find new ways each year to build an entertaining midmorning revue on Shakespearean themes. This year's edition may not be one of their best, but it's still fun as they go backstage for a disastrous dress rehearsal of Shakespeare the Musical, from cheesy opening number - 'It's goodbye I'm a-wavin' to Stratford-upon-Avon' - to a spear-carriers' lament, a funky dance for Macbeth's witches, and a ballad for Othello that begins 'I dote on her, I own her' (You can fill in the rhyme.) It's light, it's silly, and coffee and croissants are included. Gerald Berkowitz

Shaking Cecilia Underbelly - Charlotte Riley and Tiffany Wood write and perform a very funny comedy that shifts imperceptibly into a moving psychological study. A depressed woman is pulled out of her shell by the need to travel to a christening and, to force herself to do it, commits to giving a ride to a friend. But the friend is as manic and hyper-perky as she is glum and withdrawn, and so we settle in for a predictably funny odd-couple road trip from hell. And we're not disappointed - between ODing on sweets and imposing silly games on her increasingly resentful driver, the pal somehow gets them involved in an accidental kidnapping and a breakdown that forces them to sleep in the car overnight. Midway through, some odd violations of realism start happening that are explained by a climactic revelation that is surprising, believable, touching and hopeful. There's some of the best multimedia use to be seen in Edinburgh, as well. The play won an award before coming to Edinburgh, and the team clearly have a future both as writers and performers.Gerald Berkowitz

Sherlock Holmes: Murder in Edinburgh Danish Cultural Institute - It takes some suspension of disbelief to follow a Sherlock Holmes story in a variety of American, English, and Scottish accents, but Frantic Redhead Productions do make every effort to ensure a certain degree of authenticity in their site-specific production. They have included a number of former residents of the Stockbridge neighbourhood of their venue into their show, including a certain Miss Stevenson (Lara Imerman) of Randolph Crescent as well as moody Frederic Chopin (James Yule) and young medical student Conan Doyle himself (Gordon Young). In the reconstruction of a mysterious murder of Mrs Gibson beside the Mineral Well, young Holmes (a rather pretty version of the character as convincingly played by Dan Bittner) accompanied by his chums, leads the audience around the hidden spots of the Dene Village. Rather intriguingly, he even uses a chip in a pillar by the brook as a significant clue. Pure natural beauty of the setting as well as the company's charm in negotiating the unanticipated obstacles and playful passers-by enhances this entire detective experience, making it a fun day out and a satisfying piece of theatre. Duska Radosavljevic

Shimmer Traverse - Linda McLean's dreamlike comic drama is almost the quintessential Traverse play, thoroughly Scottish and yet not limited in its resonances, firmly anchored in reality while including overtones of magic and mysticism, fully aware of the tragedies of life and yet ending on a note of hope. Three women - grandmother, mother and daughter - seek refuge from torrential rain in a small B&B, where they encounter three unrelated men of comparable ages. All six, we gradually learn, are haunted by losses to death, either past or pending, which they have been unable to face and accept. Repeatedly the awkwardnesses of first conversations reflect internal shying away from unhappy thoughts, and repeatedly simple friendliness instinctively extends to comfort for a sensed unhappiness. As the characters move fluidly between external conversation and internal reactions they frequently turn to the audience to ask 'Did I say that out loud?' or assure us it was only a thought, and at least once time spirals back on itself to allow them to replay a scene, displaying their growing interior comfort through their smoother social interaction. Openly filled with unforced symbolism, notably of water in various forms, the play carries the audience along on its metaphoric vocabulary to the point where the death of one character can be played as a new entrance, the happy welcome from the others indicating that each of them has successfully conquered their fear of death. This very delicate play could easily have fallen flat without the sympathetic and sensitive direction of Lynne Parker and equally strong and perfectly tuned performances by the entire cast. Though Una McLean has the showiest role as the grandmother consciously retreating into a comic persona to avoid her pain, Lesley Hart as the granddaughter preternaturally tuned in to the others' thoughts and feelings, and Iain Macrae as the man with his feelings most tightly buttoned up, are particularly moving. Gerald Berkowitz

Shostakovich CO2 - Finally a play for the listeners of Classic FM. And judging by the cross-section of the audience, the play's title is doing well. For apart from his music, Shostakovich is probably best known by his name alone. There is very little here of the personal angst and torment associated with most other composers' careers. While Chopin or Rachmaninov famously wilted in unhappy exile, Shostakovich stayed at home and dreamt of playing football. But Debut theatre company has found a way of incorporating this play by Cieran McConville into their season about human suffering in the twentieth century. As our elderly composer (Hugh Hemmings) crouches on his bed, following a premiere of one of his symphonies, he is haunted by the communist ghost of one of his Jewish students. The play then acquires the format of an interview with a friendly vampire, summoning all the rest of Shostakovich's demons that he has suppressed. The performances are mostly at the service of the play and the drama of this biographical sketch is contained in a moment when the cheerful septagenerian ­ who has even been to the Edinburgh Festival - finds that he still has Stalin clutching at his heart. Duska Radosavljevic

The Smallest Person Pod Deco - Long renowned as one of the leading companies that fuses fact and fiction with masks and psychological realism, it was only a matter of time before Trestle Theatre Company came up with a genuine fairy story. For the first few minutes this indeed feels like a children's show with stick puppets and ventriloquist puppeteers on a rickety set. But it doesn't take long before Trestle's trademark gore and beauty of human experience permeates the stage in the form of 22 picturesque characters, played by five brilliant actors. The star here is half a meter tall Miss Caroline Crachami - or a wooden reincarnation of the historical figurine, whose performance is anything but. Born as a dwarf, 'the Sicilian fairy' was paraded by an opportunistic Irish doctor around British freak shows and eventually even met King George IV. In one of the show's highlights, Crachami - who dreams of being rescued from her fairy story by a handsome prince - asks the debauched monarch for a magical kiss, to which he replies with a warning that a rhyme has been made about how he 'kissed the girls and made them cry'. And cry she does for much of the show, until her tortured death of TB at the age of eight and the monstrous post mortem proceedings send us close to tears too. Typically, Trestle combines this with a modern day tale about sisterly love, focusing on the issues of health policy and the ethics of media appeals. Alongside the artistic leadership of the company, Emily Gray has inherited the idea for this show from Toby Wilsher who after 23 years is leaving Trestle to set up another project. Whether or not size matters, this show about the power of love is both a fitting tribute to Wilsher's achievement and a promising start for Gray. Duska Radosavljevic

Smashed! The Zoo - As a dance show it looks more like a comedy double act and as a comedy it looks like Laurel and Hardy in tutus. For creator-dancers Tamsyn Butt and Katherine Taylor certainly have bags of talent. Not only is their 'dance' show about the most unlikely dance subject ­ drinking - but they also talk, sometimes really loudly, and in a variety of well honed accents. They take us on a journey of drinking ­ spanning their own ten years of experience as well as the stories of their drunken or hangover social circle on video. What it means in dance or, more precisely, physical theatre terminology is a series of stunts involving the juggling of glasses, bottles and beer-cans using heads, feet and hands. And in this version, of course, 'bottoms up' acquires its most literal meaning. They most visibly work as a tandem really well as they whiz through their sketches about hen nights, football tournaments, Helloween parties and blind dates. Apart from the fact that you will most probably feel quite intoxicated by the end of it, you will have certainly had your 'happy hour' for the price of 45 minutes. Duska Radosavljevic

Will Smith - 10 Arguments I Should Have Won Pod Deco - Wouldn't you just love to be able to persuade everyone of how right you were every time you lost a big argument? Will Smith has created a stand up comedy show doing exactly that. He even has a screen and a laptop to put his powerpoint across even though he bears a grudge against Dixons. Having appointed an audience member as a judge, he then proceeds to give us a kind of autobiography in the form of lost arguments. They range from the nature of his childhood bike to whether or not Mark Knopfler is a genius and whether Fellowship of the Rings should justifiably be seen five times at the expense of Inland Revenue. The audience gets to vote too when it comes to contagious issues, but as for the quality of his routine - it is probably the wittiest among lecture presentations and the best illustrated one among stand up comedy shows. Will Smith has already made a name for himself as a 'posh boy' of the comedy scene and despite his fixation on Bergerac and the 80s rock he is also probably the nerdiest of the lot. Duska Radosavljevic

Son of Barnum Assembly Rooms - Eschewing the labels of PR man or, worse, PR guru, Mark Borkowski calls himself a publicist - that is, one who gains his clients free publicity by generating or manipulating press coverage - and his illustrated lecture is a history of the publicity stunt. He starts with P. T. Barnum, who invented the wheeze of writing fake letters to newspapers complaining about the immorality or offensiveness of his shows, a trick that Borkowski himself has repeatedly adapted, winding up local councils or bluenoses with false complaints about his clients' shows. He notes also how Barnum exploited the inaccuracy of newspaper illustrations of the time to make Jumbo the elephant seem larger and Tom Thumb smaller, drawing a straight line from there to the cleavage shots of modern actresses and models. In between, there are salutes to great publicists of the past, with particular admiration for Hollywood in the studio days, reminding us of the marketing of screen sex symbols, the three-year-long search for an actress to play Scarlett O'Hara, and the bobby-soxers hired to generate the screaming frenzy at Frank Sinatra performances. Among his own accomplishments in the field, Borkowski is proudest of getting safety inspectors to ban a chainsaw-juggling act that never existed, convincing the newspapers that the BBC had banned Cliff Richard records, and engineering Cliff's famous Wimbledon singalong. Hardly qualifying as theatre, this presentation is closer to a trade show speech or even a client pitch; and although personable, Borkowski is not a polished performer. He merely wanders about the stage, occasionally clicking the remote to bring up a new slide or filmclip; and, although the order of illustrations shows that the hour is carefully structured, it gives the impression of randomly wandering backward and forward in time. At its best, then, this can be of interest only to those easily fascinated by a peep behind the curtain. Gerald Berkowitz

Son of the Father Pleasance - In Pip Utton's moving and thought-provoking new play Joseph and Mary (played sensitively by the author and Mae Brogan) meet after some estrangement on the morning after their son's crucifixion. He is a loving and grieving father blaming her for letting this horror happen, while she is a dedicated believer who is certain it was necessary. She calls him too small a man to comprehend Jesus' greatness; he thinks her the ultimate stage mother, driving their gentle son to fulfill her own political revolutionary dreams. His pain at hearing his dying son cry out that his father has forsaken him leads to her sudden understanding of the Annunciation - or is that just a madwoman's frantic rationalisation? Since we know how the story turned out, Utton doesn't have to give Mary's position equal time, and can instead make us see what it must have looked and felt like then, when the two characters were not saints, but just husband and wife torn apart by tragedy. Gerald Berkowitz

Stacking Teviot - Katy Slater wowed Edinburgh last year in a self-written 15 minute piece about a woman who lived in a ladder. Her instant creation and sustaining of this bizarre alternate reality was exciting theatre. This year's 15 minute solo piece may not be quite as wondrous, but it's still a delight, as she plays an eccentric supermarket stockgirl remembering what may or may not have been a romantic relationship with an even more eccentric guy. (They rarely spoke, but they sat quietly together a lot.) If lines like 'He was still lying under the tree three days later when the band went by,' delivered in an absolute deadpan, tickle you, you'll enjoy this brief tour of a fully imagined and recreated looking-glass land. Gerald Berkowitz

Success Pleasance - Adrian Poynton's solo piece begins as light comedy and then moves into the chilling realm of psychological horror, ending up as a touching character study. Poynton plays an out-of-work actor anticipating his big break and then reacting with a bitterness that flirts with the edges of insanity when it does not appear. When another actor not only gets the TV role but also steals his girl and, almost in passing, picks up the second-rate acting job our hero would have settled for as a back-up, hope turns to paralytic despair and then to something darker. At first joking about how nice it would be if his rival had an accident so that he could step in and take over the jobs, he then calmly displays the elaborate evidence that he has been plotting just such a revenge. Only his own natural indolence saves him from the temptations of madness, and the play ends with a comic image of self-delusional failure that is particularly moving when we realise it is the only nearly-sane response open to a performer whose break has yet to come. Poynton plays with a light touch that elicits all the laughs and lets the darker tones come forward by themselves without unnecessary pressing, making for a quietly satisfying and thoroughly convincing hour. Gerald Berkowitz

Taking Charlie Assembly Rooms - Arriving into a rehab clinic in a pink tracksuit and with a copy of the OK magazine, Charlie proceeds to tell and sing us all about her problem-ridden life. It's a story of fatherless childhood, sibling rivalry, failed relationships and turning thirty, with lots of drugs and even more comedy. A one person musical is quite a feat on a number of levels and Jonathan Harvey's project with singer Abi Roberts and songwriter Duncan Walsh Atkins rises to the challenge seemingly without any effort. Truth be told, Roberts with her cut glass vowels and a mumsy appearance doesn't always look the part, but the audience chuckles admiringly throughout, whether she is belting out power ballads or motormouthing through her misdemeanours. There is much quirkiness in Harvey's script, especially when he has his heroine fantasising or taking small revenges, and Roberts too has a kind of stage presence that is compelling. So when the musical and dramatic narratives meet in all the right places we get a number about representing Turkey at the Eurovision Song Contest, a disco ode to a gay best friend and a lullaby to an unborn baby - all making perfect sense. Duska Radosavljevic

Tempting Providence Traverse - In 1921, British nurse Myra Bennett set off for Canada to offer her services to the understaffed local communities. Her tireless dedication, resilience and courage quickly distinguished her as 'Florence Nightingale of the North' and she stayed in Newfoundland till her death at the age of 100. Robert Chafe's biographical play mixes character-led narrative with romance and comedy to tell a story of the triumph of human spirit. Deidre Gillard-Rowlings' nurse is straight-laced and perfectly unsentimental, yet her actions speak louder than words ­ and they speak of profound love. She is accompanied by three fine members of the cast - Darryl Hopkins as her young husband to be Angus, and Melanie Caines and Robert Wyatt Thorne as various members of the community. Under Jillian Keiley's tight direction, the quartet work together as a well oiled machine, seamlessly weaving an endless series of scenes and settings, using just a table, four chairs and a white cloth. Aesthetically, the show is a most fascinating case of table-cloth origami and deserves to be seen at least for this reason alone. Duska Radosavljevic

Third Finger, Left Hand Assembly Rooms - All happy families are alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. But not so with Northern families, especially of Irish descent ­ they will sing and dance and put up a happy front even at the unhappiest of times. Holding a shoe box of family photos, Grace (Amanda Daniels) speaks to her dead sister Niamh (Angela Clerkin). There was a time when they didn't talk, but they don't discuss that. Instead they evoke their happy childhood, the dances they danced, and the beltings they got from their violent father. You don't have to be a sister to understand the intricacies of their relationship, and you don't even have to be a woman as this most poignant portrayal of the love and hate in sorority actually comes from a man. Clarkin and Daniels' shatteringly brilliant interpretation of Adam Canavan's script easily drives you from laughter to tears. But more importantly, although the secret of the sisters' temporary feud hangs over their every line, Canavan skilfully avoids the indulgence of sentimental outpourings - 'you never show your soft side, you never let anyone in' You dance with a lump in your throat. Duska Radosavljevic

Thom Pain Pleasance - Will Eno's chilling play presents a young man attempting a talk on life in general and its pains in particular, but so wrapped up in his own pain that what comes out is raw and uncensored emotion. Imagine a man full of pain and self-loathing drunkenly but with preternatural eloquence pouring out his feelings, and now remove the drunkenness, and you'll have some sense of the hour. The seeminly random meanderings are as precise in rhythm and language as anything by Pinter, and punctuated by resonant lines like 'She felt wrongly that she could tell me anything,' and '"You've changed," she said the night we met.' It does slip a bit toward the end, when the source of the man's pain is revealed as rather ordinary and banal. James Urbaniak gives a performance of absolute authority that holds us from his very first words. Gerald Berkowitz (James Urbaniak subsequently won The Stage Award as Best Actor.)

3hree Cabaret Voltaire - This charming programme of three award-winning short American musicals is given as polished a production as one could wish by the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. In The Mice, adapted by Julia Jordan from a Sinclair Lewis story, two lovers only get to meet when she releases mice into neighbours' homes and he, the town exterminator, banishes the residents for a few hours. Nell Benjamin's lyrics are stronger than Laurence O'Keefe's Sondheimish music, particularly in a number in which several people sing the same song at cross purposes. Lavender Girl, James Waedekin's charming if somewhat predictable romantic ghost story, is carried on the lush Les Mis-flavoured romantic music of John Bucchino. But the strongest of the three is Flight of the Lawnchair Man, based on the true story of the guy who attached helium balloons to a lawnchair and found himself 3 miles up. Peter Ullian's witty book brings in an outraged airline pilot and his dim stewardess, the man from the FAA, and the ghosts of Leonardo, Lindbergh and Earhart, while Robert Lindsey Nassif's songs are a nice blend of humour and fantasy. Staging and performances are excellent throughout all three, with special credit due designer Martin Mallorie's witty costumes in the third. Gerald Berkowitz

The Tiger Lillies - Punch and Judy Pod Deco - The latest offering from the bizarre musical trio best known for their contributions to the West End hit Shockheaded Peter is presented in Edinburgh in a partially stripped-down form that leaves intact their in-your-face grotesquery while exposing the thinness of their material and dramaturgy. Nominally a retelling of the life of the puppet icon Punch, the show actually alternates between live, puppet or videotaped Punch and Judy episodes on the one hand and independent but perhaps thematically related musical numbers on the other. The general tone of the latter, performed by Martin Jacques in his signature falsetto shriek, can be gathered from titles such as Mommy's in the Mental Home, Sex With Fleas, and I Love a Little Hamster Up the Bunghole. Meanwhile, Punch's story is told with some larger-than-human-size inflated puppets and with videos of the more familiar hand puppets, with production values in both modes deliberately shoddy. The inflated puppets flop about the stage, while the shaky camera and amateurish title cards of the videos undercut any pretense of presenting them seriously. Only occasionally do the disparate elements of the show come together. At the beginning, at least, the songs seem to have some vague connection to the personality, if not the story, of Punch, though they drift ever further away. The sight of Martin Jacques in Punch costume viciously tossing a baby about is more shocking than the equivalent moment on the puppet stage, even if the baby is an inflated doll, and thus something about the tradition's darker side is briefly exposed. But for the most part the jumble and juxtaposition of elements do not add up to much. Those hoping for a redefinition of the Punch story will probably be disappointed, while fans of the Tiger Lillies' unique musical style will resent all that other material that comes between the songs. Gerald Berkowitz

Tracing Phineas Garage - Arriving in the final week of the Fringe, this young company from North Carolina has many odds stacked against it. Their show is comparatively less lived-in than many others on offer at this point. Besides, it is an odd concoction of the grotesque and traditional drama, using double half-mask, glove puppetry and a range of wooden boxes. Set in 1850s America, the tale, as its title suggests, traces the life paths of two men called Phineas - Barnum being a showman, and Gage a survivor of a vicious accident that leaves him disfigured. Both seek fame and acceptance on the basis of the premise that 'authenticity is what this country needs'. Yet it is the company's rendition of the story that eventually warms the audience to it. Slick character-swapping and quirky external characterisation provides for some comedy, while John Catron and Bradley W. Smith's simultaneous portrayal of Phineas Gage's eccentric mother even reaches the point of moderate hilarity. In her bid to bring her son back home, the twofold Mrs Gage comes up with a fabrication of pregnancy, leaving us with an impression that this show is certainly a product of much labour as well as inspiration. Duska Radosavljevic

Trick Boxing George Square Theatre (reviewed at an earlier festival) - Two attractive American actor-dancers combine their talents to good effect in this brightly comic  Depression-era tale with overtones of an Astaire-Rogers movie. Playing virtually all the roles, Brian Sostek tells the familiar story of a talented amateur plucked from the sidewalks and groomed to be a prizefighter, with Megan McClellan as the temptress who, for possibly nefarious motives, lures him away from his training. In true Fred-and-Ginger fashion, the seduction takes place on the dance floor, with the story allowing for three extended dance sequences. And the couple take full advantage, burning up the small stage with fast-moving and high-kicking Lindy-based action. In between, a variety of accents and postures, and some tongue-in-cheek puppeteering, allow Sostek to keep the story moving and invest it with fresh and infectious humour. A slight piece at best, but one that delivers fully the bouncy and light-hearted entertainment it promises. Gerald Berkowitz

The Trouser Department Gilded Balloon Teviot - With three failed marriages behind her and the fourth looking pretty dodgy, unqualified but undaunted housewife Marilyn makes the logical decision and sets herself up as a marriage counsellor in Sally Woodcock's fast-moving comedy. Spotting both a hole in the market and a way of checking out a potential number five, Marilyn limits her practice to unhappily married men. When her first clients include a sweet guy whose wife finds him boring and a swinger who is bored with his wife, the next step may be predictable, but the one that follows is not, as the redistributed couples comically prove even less happy than before. Meanwhile, all these men coming and going are making the neighbours suspicious and Marilyn's husband more attentive. Simple but effective staging limits all the action to the spare bedroom Marilyn has converted to her consulting room, with the two men always onstage, taking turns being present while the other provides supposedly offstage voices. Victoria Turner plays Marilyn as a downmarket Northern Polyanna undaunted by any reversals, and carries the slight but thoroughly entertaining hour with her perky energy. Gerald Berkowitz

Trust Byron Pleasance - Written and originally performed by George Costigan, this solo play has been turned over to his son Niall, who brings to it an energy and contemporary reading that raise it above most other shows in the familiar fringe theatre genre of historical impersonations. The basic structure and much of the material in the monologue is standard, with Lord Byron telling the story of his life, correcting popular misconceptions and justifying himself, punctuating the material with occasional quotations from his writings. Writer Costigan's take on all this is to present Byron as a devourer of experience rather than a debauchee and, as one of the world's first celebrities, a man trapped by a popular image that interpreted all his behaviour in the most romantic - that is to say, the worst possible - light. The script is also less mechanically chronological than most, allowing Byron to speculate and philosophise on the implications of his life's events, as when he notes that childhood tales of his ancestors' debauches taught him early that 'to be bad and a Byron was the same thing'. Niall Costigan's contribution is to play Byron with a very modern sensibility. Rather than hiding behind period costume and florid language, he appears in jeans and a modestly ruffled shirt, with just the hint of formality in his speaking. His ironic attitude toward the hypocrisies of his day, his unashamed enthusiasm for such quixotic ideals as his image of Greece, and even his casual acceptance and dismissal of his poetic gifts all have the real and attractive sound of a modern youth. On a more personal level, his love for his half-sister, disdain for his wife and loyalty to his friends all come alive when described by a character presented to us as real and contemporary. It is that impression, more than the biographical details or references to Shelley and others, that the audience is likely to carry away from this dynamic and entertaining hour. Gerald Berkowitz

Unaccustomed to My Name Garage - As a writer Marta Rainer may not have much new to tell us, but as performer in her solo show she brings enough vitality and inventiveness to make a familiar story delightfully entertaining. She plays a recent university graduate paralyzed by the prospect of facing the real world and spending a summer hiding in her bathroom having imaginary conversations with her favorite professor while her Polish mother frets outside and her best friend gets on with the mundanities of life. Forcing herself to go out, she takes on the mask of a confident and exotic Russian émigré in singles bars and has a lot of fun until she meets a guy she really likes and can't figure out how to unmask herself. Performer Rainer finds all the humour and unforced pathos in the situation, making for a fast-moving and thoroughly entertaining hour. Gerald Berkowitz

Waiting for Da G C Venue - Two young rabbits ignore their Grandpa's advice and find themselves talking to strangers. And so, when a strangely attired cat and his silent horse turn up, the silly bunnies follow them to join the circus. And they are very silly bunnies indeed, because the feline ringmaster soon has them cruelly locked in a cage until they agree to become his dancing sideshow. The fast-paced story, with a moral in its tail that Jimmy Savill would be proud of, also features catchy tunes by Jonni Berliner and Rob Halon that run from ripping rap to ensemble numbers evoking The Wizard of Oz. The rap songs in particular remind you how great music is for wordbuilding. The highlight has to be Robin Grey's funny-sad power ballad as the Hapless Horse who laments the harsh lessons of a life in equine show business. Georgia Nicholson and Jonny Berliner are wonderfully gormless rabbit juveniles, while Ben Ockrents' Fatso the Cat is all smiling menace. Thanks to a buzzing script and direction, these talented multi-tasking performers enjoy themselves as much as the audience. However, I would argue with their claim that this is suitable for children of 4, as it is really a show aimed at 6-plus. Nick Awde

A Weekend in the Country Sweet in the Grassmarket - An attempt at dark comedy, this somewhat scattershot new play by Adrienne Kress has the feel of a work in progress that is one or two rewrites away from its full potential. An amiable young man named Richard invites a group of friends for the weekend, and the discovery of a dead body behind the couch sets a tone of dark absurdity. No one even questions Richard's confession of being the killer, though, at his own insistence, they bind and gag him for the rest of the play. Meanwhile, the practical problem of disposing of the body dealt with, the rest get on with their weekend, which consists mainly of self-absorbedly pouring out their souls to each other and self-absorbedly not listening. The murder plot is never followed up, except for the constant presence of the silent Richard onstage, and the play becomes a string of unlistened-to declarations of love or despair; when one character announces that she is committing suicide, the only response is from an insomniac enraged that she didn't share her sleeping pills. Characters, concept and some individual scenes all have potential for better development than this brief and disconnected script allows, and the author should be encouraged to continue working on it. Gerald Berkowitz

When It's Ajar C Venue - Two workmen repair an office door, chat with the guy at the desk, and leave. Then they do it again, with minor variations. Then with different accents or personalities. Between scenes we hear the sound of typing and eventually realise that an author is trying and rejecting variations on the scene, each more outlandish as he becomes desperate for inspiration. And so we get a Mafia version, a cowboy version, a medieval version, and so on. Dracula shows up in one, Laurel and Hardy in another. And eventually there's a spot-on parody of modern dance. The three-man Trouserpress company who devised and perform this fast-moving and frequently hilarious comedy manage to make a whole show out of what is essentially an extended revue sketch, wisely not taking it beyond a happy 35 minutes. Gerald Berkowitz

When the Bulbul Stopped Singing Traverse - Raja Shehadeh is a Palestinian lawyer who was living in Ramallah, the West Bank city that held PLO headquarters, when the Israeli army occupied it for a month in 2002. He subsequently published his diary of the period, and David Greig has adapted it as a monologue for the stage. Christopher Simon plays a character identified as Raja, describing from day to day what it feels like to live in an occupied city. Author, adaptor and actor avoid overt political statement as much as is possible, focusing instead on mundane matters. His mother lived near a government building, and tanks ruined her front garden. The narrator is misinformed about curfew times, and has the eerie experience of driving through deserted streets. The electricity is cut off, threatening the book he is writing on his computer. These indications of how ordinary life is affected make their political point without commentary, and what commentary we get is strikingly balanced. Raja castigates the PLO for stupidity as often as he criticises the Israeli soldiers, and he wonders if those who are pointlessly brutal here will suffer from post-traumatic stress later. He recognises that a fellow resident's impassioned plea for human rights is just another Shylock speech, and admits to a momentary thrill at news of a retaliatory suicide bomber. There is hardly a play here and, though there are token gestures toward staging, the experience is much like listening to a cassette tape of the book, the best that can be said of the actor being that he delivers the power of the writer. Gerald Berkowitz

The Wicker Woman Pleasance (reviewed at an earlier festival) - Population:3's show is a fast-moving anything-for-a-laugh romp that delivers almost as much fun as it hopes to, and certainly enough for a satisfying hour. Doubling and redoubling roles, the cast of three tell a consciously silly story that is a variant on the cult horror movie The Wicker Man with, in this case, a woman PC kidnapped by Scottish islanders and sacrificed to propitiate the wind gods and save the local windmill farm. But the fun lies in the openly cheesy jokes and comic effects. All the characters, from the innocent copette to the local yokels, are cartoons, and all sets, props and costumes comically inadequate or exaggerated.  Sound effects and even musical bridges are all done by mouth. The cast member providing an echo effect can't catch what the caller says and has to fake it. One of the women puts on a fake moustache to play a man, and the comment that she looks like Freddy Mercury triggers a string of impressions. Such silliness is infectious, and while even more would be even better, few could complain that there is not enough. Gerald Berkowitz

The Wild Party Augustine's - In the 1920s Joseph Moncure March wrote a novel in verse to capture the excitement and danger of the Gatsby era, and a few years ago two separate musical adaptations were staged in New York. This is the Off-Broadway version by Andrew Lippa, performed by the National Student Theatre Company, a summer program that has in the past been the springboard for such performers as Simon Russell Beale and John Godber. The musical, built around a party thrown by a bickering golden couple, takes a while getting started, and the first fifteen minutes or so are marked by tuneless songs, cluttered staging and some straining for the notes by the singers. But then it suddenly all clicks into place - song after song is absolutely first-rate, and the performers visibly grow in confidence as they find their voices. This is at least as strong a musical as most recent West End shows, and, while I'd love to see a big-budget professional production, I'm delighted to have seen this one. It might be worth noting the names of Jo Cook and Stephen Fletcher, as the hosts, and Siri Steinmo and Chris Grahamson, as their complicating love interests; you may someday want to say you saw them here first. Gerald Berkowitz

Ben Willbond Pleasance - I happen to have seen Ben Willbond last when he was still the prettier half of the Ben and Arn double act - the guys who brought you the original Priorite a Gouche. In the meantime, he's made quite a career for himself, even adding a Perrier Newcomer Award to his name. He's also grown out of the idea of boy bands and into the issues of being 30ish. His latest character-comedy sketch show, however, is still fairly cosmopolitan, featuring a Fulham yuppie with a fixation on Channel(le) Quattro, a smooth Latino American asylum seeker with a nose itch and a knack for salsa and a Gulf war veteran and recruitment officer with a marriage in crisis. Helped along by his female side-kick with an equally versatile repertoire of female characters, Katy Brand, Willbond's immensely sparkly showcase also has a rounded narrative structure. As a result it takes a while for him to tie up all the narrative loose ends, but it's all very well worth your while as you watch Willbond salsa his way into the highest echelons of the British comedy circuit. Duska Radosavljevic

 

 

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

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Reviews - Edinburgh Festival - 2004