Short Term Listings
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LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Report
2003 Edinburgh Fringe Festival
3 - 25 August
Updated 18th of August
by Ben Clover
Click on Show Title or Scroll Down Page to Browse
Iz |Bright Colors Only | Corpus |Kings of the Road|Monty Python's Flying Circus in French|Twelve Angry Men|After Sex All the Animals are Sad|Ego |Linda Marlowe - No Fear |Red Hat and Tales |Icaro - Teatro Sunil |An Evening with Joe Stalin |Duck |Nine Parts of Desire |Greed |Hurricane |The Argument - A Family Portrait |7Assilon Place |Some Kind of Love Story | The Straits |Sniperculture| Pugilist Specalist |Gogol's Underdogs |Candide |
Entering the Pleasance Attic and being greeted with three young men in black suits and ties on a bare stage, I thought we were in for a sub-Tarantino gangster testimonial. Instead we get an assured and mature look at bereavement. When the title character dies suddenly, the lives of the three men that loved her are altered completely. She seemed to dominate each one, calling them her "Apostles" and the script flits skilfully between monologue, conversation and fury as they realise how much she defined them. The believability of relations with each other and themselves in her wake makes the piece enormously compelling. The direction and performances are all so sharp that they show off the considerable power of the writing. The direction spotlights the cast's interplay that a more traditional staging would lose. Similar in subject to Abi Morgan's Tiny Dynamite, the piece has real style and an emotional intelligence rare on the Fringe. Although nothing like its blurb in the Festival guide Silver Tongue Productions are on to a real winner with this.
Pleasance Attic 12:45, 45 Min
Bright Colours Only
Unlike the coffin it concerns, borne out of the theatre on four shoulders, the responsibility for Bright Colours Only rests solely on Pauline Goldsmith. A big hit last year this is a one-woman show set at a wake in Ireland. As such each member of the audience is greeted personally by Pauline and offered tea and biscuits, or whisky if you prefer, and asked to sit wherever there is room, on the settee, the armchair or on the floor in front of the coffin. The audience participation comes again at the end when the coffin is taken to a waiting hearse by members of the audience and waved off by everyone. If you don't like the idea of attending someone you didn't really know, well, I think that's sort of the point, because in the bulk of the show Goldsmith shows us a pretty dysfunctional family. Changing roles, scenes and make up, we meet most of the family in turn before a final monologue from inside the coffin itself. This takes great skill and after a slightly misjudged opening the pace gathers and affecting passages appear and leaven the comic ones. All that plus free biscuits make for a solid 75 minutes theatre.
Pleasance Courtyard 14:30, 75 Min
Earlier this year Dr Hagens, a German scientist caused something near a scandal with his exhibition of dried and "plastinated" human corpses, a musical inspired by the exhibition is the natural next step and Modify The Van productions have taken it. First of all it must be said that the make up transforms four of the actors to look eerily like Hagen's skinless cadavers. Sadly the rest of this show doesn't live up to this feat of fabricated putrefaction. I saw three shows about death today and Corpus somehow managed to be simultaneously the least serious and the least amusing. Taking the idea that the "plastinated" corpses' minds are still alive would have been quite plot enough you, but over ninety minutes it has more narrative holes and loose ends than the corpses. The songs are good and the backing band slick but the whole thing seemed to squander the potential of the set up in trying to deal with massive themes like the sadness of immortality (not a theme that keeps many of us awake at night, it barely kept me awake today). There are some great performances but these are from people whose archetypal roles (mad scientist, ambitious journalist) allow them to ham it up. Everyone else in the cast gets lumbered with some really wincy lines or long speeches about the plastination process being for the benefit of mankind. There seem to be about four different ideas fighting it out to be heard in Corpus and the battle takes so long that by the end it doesn't matter.
C Venue 17:10, 90 Min
Kings of the Road
There is a large crop of top British stand ups acting in straight plays this year and this Irish drama is one of them, very similar in tone to The History of the Troubles According to my Da (see Curtain Up's archive). As the lights go up we see the youngest of three generations of bus driver talking to his comatose father, silent beneath a mummification of bandages. A lot of Irish drama is about telling stories, stories to pass the time, stories for moral instruction, for knowledge, scaring or even for rebuffing intimacy (Brian Friel's Faith Healer or Conor McPherson's The Weir for example). The young driver, played capably by comedian Ed Byrne, imagines up the ghost of his grandfather and the spirit of his dad. They laugh, they joke, they tell stories comical, tragical, pastoral etc and that's about it really. His dad doesn't recover, his grandfather's ghost goes back up to heaven and we don't really get a sense of any change, progression or revelation. The men complain about the unfairness of it all and there is a lovely moment when he can't finish a joke and choke down the emotion at once, but the net result is a little under-whelming. Compared to Byrne the older men, professional actors, exude a lot more presence and this shrewd casting shows us a young man starting to mythologise his ancestors. The best moment has Byrne trying to persuade his father's spirit to remain a little longer in his body by telling another story, his father obliges but the tale becomes a horrible recounting of his last moments as a sentient human being. Then he is gone. If there had been more moments of this kind of power or the play had been structured better to accentuate them we could have had a real winner with Kings of the Road instead it's just a gently entertaining hour with some good jokes.
Pleasance Dome 19:20, 60 Min
Monty Python's Flying Circus in French
Is it comedy? Is it Absurdist Drama? Is it somewhere in between? These and other questions were gleefully forgotten during this French production of the Python's classic sketches. As the audience file in, two mountaineers scale them, a naked, feral man paces in the darkness and the crowd seemed very pleased.
Remy Renoux's production takes the sketches of the legendary TV show, translates them into French for an English audience who then read a re-translation on an electronic display. It doesn't sound as it will work but it really does. The choice of sketches covers both the greatest hits and material I was unfamiliar with. The dead parrot sketch is somehow fresher in French than in the original. Although the wordplay sometimes gets a little lost, (you could tell who in the audience spoke French when the electronic display broke down) the cast do a superb job of communicating absurdity in another language. The slickness of the staging and the professionalism of the cast manage to turn a difficult situation to one of perverse brilliance. Python fans will be satisfied as would anyone into comedy. Outright obscenity is narrowly avoided throughout and the phrase "but there are children in the audience!" becomes a catchphrase worthy of the original Python team themselves.
Pleasance 17:45 70 Min
Twelve Angry Men
Guy Masterton is a living legend at the Edinburgh festival. Every year he directs, acts in and/or produces around six shows, almost all of which are rapturously received. Twelve Angry Men seems to be no exception. A challenge both artistically and financially the piece is rarely performed and the rights a struggle to obtain. The packed house at Edinburgh's second poshest venue are all glad he and the cast made the effort.
The men in question are almost all played by stand up comedians, a rarity, especially considering how high a profile they have in their own field. Bill Bailey, Jeff Green and Phil Nichol all have or have had sell out shows at the festival and it is a surprise to see so many of them in a piece that so democratically divides stage time.
The play itself is a pleasure, tense and deftly directed by Masterton, it shows what happens when a mass of prejudice, passion and duplicity is cooped up in a jury room to decide a young man's fate. With jury trial under increasing threat in the UK, the performance manages to state a case for a system that demands discussion of issues if not always consensus. Issues aside there are some excellent performances here. Bill Bailey is unrecognisable as the indecisive ad man and Steve Frost nails the difficult part of a wounded and angry father. However Phil Nichol shines brightest as Juror 10 whose surly presence finally explodes into a terrifying, racist rant. On that kind of form he could play Stanley Kowalski. Highly recommended.
Assembly Rooms, 12:30 90 min
After Sex All the Animals are Sad
This piece is a bold leap at something dark and serious and deserves credit for that. It shows a woman who finds herself more attracted to her penfriend, an imprisoned murderer, than her annoying Zoologist lover. He is writing a doctorate on the mating behaviour of Bonobo monkeys, our nearest primate relative, and the parallels in behaviour start to seep into his life. As an attempt to look at male display behaviour and why we are attracted to dangerous things and people, this play has some good ideas - murder is more impressive as display than monkey watching - but sadly it's hampered by some weak acting and a clunky script. The couple on the outside seem under-realised as people, a couple of wise cracks do not a rounded character make and the actors spoke too quietly. Conversely Thom Brace as the prisoner is much more compelling (as he was the "Alpha Male" maybe that's the point?) It's a shame we don't hear more from him as he brings real menace and a dash of compassion to the part. Overall a good idea let down by a weak presentation, a bit like the zoologist, maybe that's the point?
C venue 14:50 60 Min
Ego was written by Carl Djerassi a man best known for inventing the contraceptive pill. You'd think his ambition would be sated by such an enormous innovation but this is his second play at the festival in two years. Like last year's Oxygen, Ego is as cerebral as you might expect from a scientist and the premise is fascinating. A narcissistic author fakes his own death so he can read the obituaries in the papers. This play manages to pack a lot of thought and issue into an hour and a half and it does so with some good jokes and good will. The only problem is it achieves this at the cost of real emotional engagement with the characters. The effect of the writer faking his own death on his wife, himself and their psychiatrist is explored intellectually rather than emotionally. As Marks, the writer, reveals he has started a new life and a new career (as another writer), his psychologist is compromised by his feelings for the "dead" man's wife. From there, things get more complicated still - his wife finds out, edits his book "posthumously" and he comes back from the "dead" and everyone argues over the ethics of everything.
It works on a lot of levels and on a lot of those very well. The performances are very sharp and the production handsome but as a whole the piece lacked that farcical heart that makes a Tom Stoppard play come to life. But never mind, overall this is still a clever, witty and thought provoking piece. I mean you wouldn't want Medea every day would you?
Pleasance 4:05, 90 min
Linda Marlowe - No Fear
Linda Marlowe is an actress and no mistake. She has appeared in The Avengers and worked extensively with Steven Berkoff with whom she shares technique. Three quarters of the way through she asks if anyone has a light. "One of the highlights of this job is that I can smoke and you can't." I give her a light. "You're shaking", she says. "One of us is going to get burnt." I wasn't but that isn't the point. With her grand and personal style she dominates the bare stage of the Assembly Rooms and accommodates the arrival of latecomers as deftly as any stand up. So much so that the material in her one-woman show isn't all that important. This isn't a play but a collection of pieces in faintly chronological order. We see Linda or someone like her smuggling drugs, giving birth, walking the tight rope and engaging Philip Marlowe in a noir pastiche. Audiences should realise this show is more like watching a soloist than an ensemble dedicated to the piece. Compared with last year's Diatribe of Love, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's only work for the stage, I was a little disappointed by the autobiographical approach this time but there's no arguing with the power and versatility of her performance. No Fear is a good example of a very potent kind of theatre but perhaps not to everyone's taste.
Assembly Rooms 12:00 60 min
Red Hat and Tales
A new American play, this is another Guy Masterson production and shows his dependably esoteric taste. Billed as being about a dysfunctional marriage between bisexuals, it's a little deceptive. Of the bisexuality there was a little, of dysfunction there was a lot. Paul lives in a cupboard and writes viciously frank postcards to loved ones, living and dead, including his wife ("let's have muffins in an hour"). He never sends these but they litter the stage like thoughts in his unkempt brain. His wife would pass for "normal" were it not for her always wearing a red hat ("even in bed") and participating in Paul's fantasy life.
It's not half as Beckett-like as it sounds and is fast, erudite and funny. Imagine a play written by Neil Simon's younger brother, a brother in love with allusion, non-sequiturs and whimsical sentimentality and you're nearly there. It takes a while to get going but when you become familiar with its cosy claustrophobia, Red Hat is good fun. The ending is happy whilst avoiding schmaltz and that certainly impressed me.
Assembly Rooms 14:30 60 min
Icaro - Teatro Sunil
This charming piece really is "theatre as play". It has the innocent aura of a game played by children. Before the show starts, Daniele Finzi Pasca comes out to the audience and asks for a volunteer, a "thin participant" to be the other half of the cast with him.. The girl in the row in front of me eventually agrees and he leads her off behind the curtain. We wait for something to happen. What has he done to the girl? What is she going to be doing? What is this play about? The curtain rises and before us is a room in a Swiss institution. The two beds are white and all the furniture is white and the kind of institution this is becomes clear. Pasca is in one bed and the volunteer is in the other, looking a little nervous. She doesn't know what is going to happen. Neither do we. But our interest is engaged and we experience what follows in tandem with her. It feels like we participate through her. Pasca talks of his previous cell mate and their plan to fly away like Icarus, (a bad role model really). Pasca then shifts from sentiment to action and persuades the volunteer that they should escape together and we watch them plan and practise. He pushes her around in a wheelchair, she dons his wings (made from the inside of a pillow) and he carries her on his back while she flaps them. I realise this sounds very silly but the atmosphere Pasca creates belies that completely. What is fascinating is as he starts to win over the volunteer, her participation, awkward and embarrassed at first, becomes more and more enthusiastic, just as the audience is also converted. At the end she escapes and he is left like a dreaming child in his cell. It managed to be funny and moving. Many shows are, but I describe this in so much detail because it was unlike any theatre experience I've had before. If this is Pasca's one man show I look forward to seeing the whole of Teatro Sunil soon.
Assembly Rooms 16:10 90 min
An Evening with Joe Stalin
Much of the Fringe festival is characterised by bad taste and pretension, qualities An Evening With Joe Stalin had in abundance. I have to admit I was quite ready to be offended by this show. I don't see why joking references to Communist Gulags, purges and genocide are any more acceptable than joking references to any other Gulags, purges or genocide. So I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud at the pitch perfect silliness of it all. The performances are all super-sized and the whole cast play it perfectly straight at the right points. A Russian dance through the first half of the twentieth century, we see the Revolution, the Civil War, the Second World War all presented with a levity that defies criticism.
As musical theatre it's gustily sung and hammily acted - all as it should be. It has some good jokes: Stalin's wife commits suicide with a thimble of poison and two of the chorus appear to carry her off stage. They look at the situation and have a quick game of paper-scissors-stone. The loser sighs and carries off Mrs Stalin, the winner smirks and carries off the thimble.
In art as in history, Trotsky damn near steals the show (which might have been better for it, who knows?) James Croft plays him as a sneering libertine and he looks uncannily like Rik Mayall. Fake moustached Michael Hall played Stalin as, well, a monster and reminded me physically of Oliver Hardy. The combination on stage was surreal and hilarious.
Overall I think the piece was offensive but with so much brio it got away with it. And as the final number pointed out, the winners of wars tend to be forgiven all things and a photo of Blair and Bush appears on a screen.
C Venues 00:00, 60 min
Duck is Stella Feehily's first play and this shows a little. Most first plays have lots of energy and bags of ideas but only the best temper these with a restraint that shows this off. They also need an excellent production to survive and Duck certainly gets this. To be co-produced by the Royal Court and Out Of Joint and directed by Max Stafford Clark is a new writer's dream and smoothes over the uncertainties in tone and structure.
Following the lives of two teenagers, Sophie and Cat ("Duck" because she has big feet) in the big city they live in, love in and then leave, the show moves at a brisk pace without feeling rushed. In a new play about teenagers, the contemporary theatre goer probably expects swearing, drugs and onstage nudity and will not be disappointed. What is surprising is how unshocking it all is. The young cast deserve credit for hurling themselves into roles that are a little too thin but the big scenes, tenderness in a bath tub turning to water torture, don't have the impact you might imagine.
Stafford Clark directs with his usual crispness and clarity and the actors give their all but there is something a little lacking here. Despite the fireworks and the tenderness, which Feehily does well, it's Duck's good fortune to have such a team behind the piece, without which it would have struggled.
Traverse times vary daily, 130 min
Nine Parts of Desire
Reviewers see a lot of shows in Edinburgh and it is sometimes hard not to become a little jaded. So it's with utmost conviction I can say Nine Parts of Desire is the most moving thing I have ever seen in a theatre. Words are cheap and terms like "moving", "heart-rending" have become debased through overuse but this was the real thing. This is how you're supposed to feel after Greek tragedy: awed and horrified, angry and questioning. Again, words are cheap but I had to sit down after I left the Traverse and urge you to go and see it. Have your faith in the form reinforced. Like many in Edinburgh, it is a monologue, like so few it really, really works.
Written and performed by Iraqi-American Heather Raffo, it switches between the lives of different women affected by the Gulf wars and stitches them into one story. The women she plays are Iraqis, Americans, ex-pats and those who are no longer sure. We see a pregnant doctor in a filthy maternity ward, a plastic surgeon's wife in London and a mother in suburban New Zealand but the play's central figure is the artist who has painted them all; these and Saddam Hussein's official portrait.
It's not the cleverest piece of theatre I've ever seen and for the first half hour it seems leisurely, to meander from one woman to another. But halfway through something happens and it tightens. Its repertoire of images start to echo round the room, picked up by different characters in different contexts. Things we have all seen on TV, stories we knew but had forgotten, do still forget, start to circle round each other. It gets faster and faster until, like music, it is overwhelming. Raffo's performance seemed leisurely at first but this was just pacing. The audience is as affected as by these events as the characters in Nine Parts of Desire. It's not the cleverest piece of theatre in the world because, like a bomb, it needn't be. But it is well aimed. It does bypass your defences, the distance and detachment we have behind our screens and papers.
Go and see Nine Parts of Desire.
Traverse 14:15, 80 min
It's a clever medium is mime, it makes you feel clever for understanding what's going on. Couple the laughter of recognition to whatever the actual gag is and you can see why the great silent movies are still funny to this day. Greed is a silent film put on the stage with live piano accompaniment and it's terrific. Two actors show a dazzling virtuosity for an hour without ever showing off. At one point the piano trills to signal tension (the husband is having a war flashback) and the muscle on the actors neck quivers in perfect time. Greed is full of great moments like this and exudes a blend of innocence, charm and wit like nothing else I've seen this year.
A dentist and his wife are saved from poverty when they discover a miracle tooth whitening formula by accident. What follows shows the effect of vast wealth on two ordinary people and that's just before it all starts to go wrong. As the title implies, this doesn't end happily, which makes it all the more powerful as we have come to love the characters by the end. The Clod ensemble have put on a superb and original show, something Keaton or Chaplin would have been proud of.
Pleasance 17:50 60 min
To those not familiar with the game of snooker, a brief explanation. This sport is often erroneously considered the same as pool but it is to pool what the US Open is to mini-golf. Anyone can play pool whereas snooker requires almost Zen-like concentration. Shots have to be planned in advance like the gambits of a chess game. But like all the best things, there is room for invention, daring or genius. Hurricane is a one man show based on the life of snooker legend Alex "Hurricane" Higgins, a prodigy at the game, the Mozart of the sport. The comparison is apt because Wolfgang A.Mozart loved billiards and as in Amadeus, we see the protagonist as a croaking old man, bent over by memories before he throws off the coat, straightens up and takes us through his life with breakneck energy. We watch him grow up poor and talented in Belfast and then explode onto the stuffy world of competitive snooker. At his peak he lives "the life of a touring rock star", travels the world and arm wrestles with Oliver Reed. After the rise there is of course the fall: drugs, alcoholism, loss of focus, loss of marriages, children and the constant struggles with the sport's governing body. At the end of the piece, we are back in the bar with hunched old man with throat cancer, alone, with the wisdom he never had when he needed it. He tells us not to patronise him because he's seen the very best the world has to offer and then hobbles off.
The night I saw it there was a standing ovation that was thoroughly deserved. Writer/Performer Richard Dormer plays Higgins so magnetically that even someone with no appreciation of snooker would find themselves gripped. Playing all the parts himself (doing a hilarious Oliver Reed) he always comes back to Alex and makes him enormously compelling.
There's more and more one-man shows every year at the festival and this Hurricane is the form at its very best, thoroughly recommended even if you've never heard of the man or his sport.
Assembly Rooms 21:25, 60 mins
The Argument - A Family Portrait
Theatre O's new production may well be the most stylish production in this year's Festival. The set alone deserves an award, imagine a Changing Rooms Special collaboration between Edward Gorey, Charles Addams and even Tim Burton and you're almost there.
Following up their last work Three Dark Tales was always going to be a challenge, and Theatre O present just the one this year. To say too much would spoil your enjoyment and you should see this show but it suffices to say a family, a lie and a whole coach-load of neuroses move in ever decreasing circles before colliding.
This story would be difficult viewing if it weren't for the wonderful acting and production. Some of the most innovative staging you will see in Edinburgh draws you thoroughly into the family's world and doesn't let you go. Of all the many devising companies at work today very few produce plays that are strong enough to stand alone as texts but Theatre O have done just that. See their production while you can..
Assembly Rooms 14:10, 90 min
7 Assilon Place
7 Assilon Place is a worthy stab at a difficult subject and it's a real shame that it doesn't quite work. Three asylum seekers await their Home Office interviews and struggle through the Byzantine system that will change their lives forever. This is rich dramatic territory as well as being current and contentious and the Talia group try and breathe as much theatrical life as they can into it with physical theatre. Devotees of the "Meyerhold" technique, they bound around their flexible set to illustrate their point. Sadly the set looks like a work in progress and the technique seems overblown. For example: how to illustrate the overwhelming amount of paperwork involved in the asylum process? Well, why not have the cast get tangled in long strips of paper? Fun for a minute but overblown for ten, this kind of technique can be invigorating but when it's not, it labours a point excessively. There are good moments in this show. The interviews where the characters sit as if caught in a headlight, fielding casually menacing questions, are electric. For twenty minutes the Pinter-esque potential of the subject is attained but that still leaves over an hour that doesn't work. As the lights come up, the cast ask us to donate to the Amnesty buckets at the door and we are reminded that this is a real and nightmarish situation for thousands of people in Britain. Dramatically speaking having your heart in the right place is simply not enough, and wearing it on your sleeve can just be messy.
C Venue 16:40, 80 min
Some Kind of Love Story
How do you deal with someone who is mentally ill? Do you ignore the problem, confront it or play along? What if you need information from someone like this, information relating to a man's wrongful imprisonment? Arthur Miller shoves us deep into the power games between a private eye and a woman with a dark history, multiple personalities and the vital information.
After Greek tragedy and Shakespeare, Miller is one of the hardest authors a new company can undertake. Like Tennessee Williams, his characters need extremely strong performances to bring the lyricism and power of the text alive. Court Theatre's production gets just these performances for this taut and claustrophobic two-hander. On the small stage the cast make the lives and delusions of these people poignant and fiercely compelling, transcending the shabbiness of their surroundings. Credit is due to anyone capable of pulling off multiple personality changes onstage and making them as unsettling and powerful as they are here. The direction paces things nicely, side steps melodrama and enables the kind of performances the play deserves. C venue 22:30, 60 min
This is one of the big events of this year's festival. Gregory Burke's Gagarin Way was a critical and popular hit at the 2001 festival and his follow up labours under heavy expectation. Perhaps this is why it feels faintly under-whelming, that or its being an adaptation of one of Burke's radio plays.
Set in Gibraltar as the Falklands War gets underway, Burke intersects politics and pubescence through four teenagers' fateful summer. What Gagarin Way showed with older men mis-applying Socialist principles, The Straits does with Jingoism. The direction and acting are all top notch and the young cast do very well with what they're given. All four performers excel in either the awkwardness, cruelty or tenderness of teenagers. But out there on the beautiful set the characters seem a little exposed by the play itself. The montage sections, though pretty, feel inconsequential and the tacked on air is not disguised by the deft lighting. Although accomplished and entertaining it still left me anticipating Burke's next new work.
Traverse 90 min
I was always told that if you can't say anything nice about something then don't say anything at all. Good advice perhaps but my duty as a reviewer is to urge you not to see this show. I only write more because, to only say the above might whet your appetite and you might decide you want to see for yourself. Don't. Go and see something good in a small venue instead, something lovingly crafted like Greed or Gogol's Underdogs. This isn't even comically bad or kitsch-y ironic bad. I was intrigued by the title but can't recommend it in any way whatsoever. Set in Edinburgh, it is a re-imagining of what happened when the MTV music awards, a massive corporate event, came to town recently. "A fusion of Medea and the Kurt-Courtney Psychodrama", Sniperculture manages to be even more crass and tasteless than the channel it affects to satirise but with none of MTV's flash and dazzle. The competent half of the cast magnify how toe-curlingly bad the other half acts, and the songs embarrass everyone. A wince inducing script hobbled by minimalist production limps from one joke-ette to another via melodrama or leaden invective.
The production's heart seems in the right place but this is a bad fringe production of a bad play made to look all the worse by playing in the Traverse. It's almost as if the sinister corporations supposedly satirised in Sniperculture were trying to discredit the piece by letting it fall so publicly on its sword.
Traverse 90 min
This is an excellent hour in a theatre. Most years the fringe is visited by examples of the American School of Spectacularly Verbose Plays. Often overwrought, always over-wordy these make you crave some of the sparseness of Beckett or Pinter. Fringe First winners The Riot Group have made something extraordinary by doing words well. There are lines and passages here with a wit and precision that remind you of Bill Hicks or M.A.S.H. Concerning four soldiers on a mission of covert political assassination (yes, controversial) we see them compromised by internal conflicts (again, controversial) and by one of them being a woman (still more controversial). The day I saw it, the audience was overwhelmed by the pace and smartness of the piece and only started to catch up a third of the way through. Can US servicemen, or any servicemen anywhere, possibly be this quick and funny? So very, very eloquent? It doesn't matter because in Pugilist Specialist they are and the effect is electric. You don't need me to tell you what happens, part of the point is that we never know the truth of what the army tells us or even of what we tell ourselves. Let it suffice to say, go and see it: you might be shocked but you'll definitely be impressed.
Pleasance 13:15 60 min
Monty Python had several sketches about the madness gibbering under the surface of every office, the endless, maddening inanities, the paranoia and the back stabbing. Kafka gave his name to just that atmosphere and Gogol got there before even him. The Russian author and playwright best known for The Government Inspector made it his mission to represent all of Russia in his work, Gogol's Underdogs is the stage adaptation of his stories about the civil service. Rogue State Productions bring his surreal tales to life with such comic vitality that it's like watching Monty Python transported back to the age of the Tsars. That the three civil servants all come to a bad end is only to be expected; after all this is Russia and life is cruel, but the fun had along the way is tremendous and bizarre. One man eavesdrops on poodles to get closer to their mistress, another's nose elopes and is promoted above him in the office. Full of invention and wit this show is joint first with Greed as the funniest on the Fringe.
Underbelly 16:40 90 min
Of all the musicals at the Fringe this production of Bernstein's Candide is certainly one of the most ambitious. Adapted from Voltaire's sharp satire of enlightenment certainties, we watch as the title character and his naivety survive a succession of wars, betrayals, miraculous escapes and natural disasters with good humour. A large band and thirteen performers onstage mean it's certainly good value and the young cast bring off the globetrotting sarcasm of Voltaire's novel with aplomb. Par Exemplum's production looks wonderful and moves spryly through its endearingly ridiculous tale. That the vocal ranges stretch as far as the plot is remarkable, especially for a Fringe production. Bernstein's score is as brilliant and challenging as you'd expect and Ros Steele deserves full credit for nailing Cunegonde's Aria so convincingly. In as large a cast and show as this, there are inevitably inconsistencies but you would be hard pushed to hold these against the fun to be had here. A cut above the musical average on the Fringe and simple, cynical fun for all the family.
Zoo Venues 12:15 100 min
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
At This Theater
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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