‘The Lift’ and ‘Elephant in the Room’ (Bedlam: 20 Nov ’13)

“Bedlam is steaming through the waters it knows best – supporting emerging talent on stage and off.”

Editorial Rating: Unrated

Brass monkeys ain’t in it. It is seriously cold in Bedlam. I should be seeing Dr. Zhivago  or something set in Narnia during the reign of the White Witch. Instead I’m taking my seat for The Lift and The Elephant in the Room, two out of three afternoon entertainments written by Freshers. For such a hit and miss affair there is a great deal on target. The badinage buffet successfully showcased the great things we can expect from Fringe venue 49 in the coming years. Familiar and not so familiar faces breathed life into two daring scripts simply (but effectively) staged.

The Lift (unlike Elevator the forgettable 2011 horror flick in which 9 people are trapped in an elevator) is set in a lift where 9 people have become trapped. Writer Fergus Deery sketches out a series of ludicrous characters – a flatulent vicar and his shrewish wife; a Matt Lacey-esque über-rah; a pompous PhD; two devoted lovebirds; a prickly girl in a wheelchair, accompanied by her patient pushover friend; and a member of the toiling masses. When Über-rah causes the lift’s mechanism to jam, hilarity ensues as the social norms crumple under the weight of frustration and impatience. Don’t expect piercing social insight, the social commentary doesn’t rise much above sprout jokes.

Deery is playing for laughs and he gets them. In the hands of a well-matched, well-balanced ensemble his unaffectionate portraits come to life. The true star of the show is the staging. It’s minimalist, just a wooden border at hip height, but just large enough not to entirely restrict the unfolding drama. Blocking is of course a problem but there are signs of genius lurking in its comic application. The Lift has the feel of a recurring sketch routine (although more Armstrong and Miller than Fry and Laurie). The plot twist can be seen from a mile off which somewhat underwhelms the final third. But it’s a promising first attempt, galloping out of the starting gates, confidently leaping the first hurdles. And although more were clipped than cleared in the home stretch, this is a writer who has established his form and will be one to watch.

The Elephant in the Room is a bold, even reckless narrative by Joe Christie. Charging head on at themes relating to the personal calamity of terminal illness approached from a surrealist angle. Beth, a tour guide at the castle (I’m not sure why except that the outfit must have been to hand) is informed that she’s terminally ill. The sardonic stalwart Henry Conklin (having finally escaped from The Lift) appears to her dressed as an elephant. The effect of the costume on Conklin conjures imaginings of a live action version of the YouTube classic The Wanky Shit Demon. The Elephant offers Beth (nuancedly, understatedly played by Sophie Harris) a choice to either face the realities of her situation or to journey through a shifting dreamscape landscaped by her own mind. A lot is packed into the script including off-the-rails coronations, gay imps, giant crêpes, supervillain queens, and wise mystics.

There are echo’s of the acclaimed Something There That’s Missing, the surprise hit of last Fringe. Elephant in the Room is equally creative, equally absurdist and a vehicle for equally quirky as well as engaging performances. It’s unlucky in the line-up though, following on from the unashamedly boisterous The Lift. I never could like Moulin Rouge after it was shown on a transatlantic flight immediately after my first encounter with Shrek.

Both Elephant in the Room and The Lift made me sorry not to have seen the full cycle – word in the bar was that Amanda Whittington’s Be My Baby was rather good. Both the plays I saw excite a sense that Bedlam is steaming through the waters it knows best – supporting emerging talent on stage and off. The current generations are heirs to a noble tradition. Their commitment to their craft does them credit, honouring that most venerable and lively of Edinburgh theatrical institutions.

Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 20 November)

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