Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist (Assembly George Square Gardens: Aug 19 – 25 : 21:00: 1hr)

“A gem of the surreal comedy scene.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Nae Bad

My consumption of Tom Lenk’s work, like many, is limited to his appearances on the small screen. His time as Andrew the reformed(ish) demon-maker-turned-sidekick in Buffy the Vampire Slayer definitely earned him a place in my heart, but that sells him short. He’s made appearances on the Broadway stage, is a playwright in his own right, and now (most importantly) the Edinburgh Fringe, in a show whose brief is impossible not to take a second look at.

Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist is one of the most successfully surreal Fringe shows I’ve ever seen. The title both sums it up entirely, and fails spectacularly to capture anything of its substance at all. The premise itself sounds like the setup for a joke: a struggling, suicidal young man (writer Byron Lane) gets a knock on the door, and it’s Tilda Swinton. Everything unfolds from this single origin point, and blooms out in absurd fractals from there.

Don’t be fooled, though. From the moment Lenk arrives onstage as Swinton, that absurdity has justification. As the marketing may suggest, Lenk’s performance is the main event, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Lenk’s Swinton is so unconventionally charming that it’s hard to describe. It’s almost like the charismatic version of cubism. Whether blowing in like a winter storm at a bag factory or whispering sweet nothings to an espresso machine, Lenk captivates a crowd like no other. It’s true spectacle, and well worth the price of admission.

This is not, however, a one man show. Walt, Swinton’s project and the main audience touchpoint, is a fine element of grounding in a show that could easily lose its feet. He does a very good job of playing constant foil to Lenk’s fifth-dimensional grandeur, and his puppydog appeal is undeniable – though, occasionally his delivery slipped from “sad and confused” to “disinterested”. Whilst in other shows this might slide, when playing on the same stage as a mad swan-lady from the nth dimension, it shows. As a writer, Lane should be incredibly proud not only of the task he’s undertaken, but the tightness of his script. The joke density is intimidatingly thick, and some sections feel as if the laughs are built in wall-to-wall.

Mark Jude Sullivan fits in perfectly to the heightened reality at both ends of the pole, pulling double duty as self-obsessed Bobby and Walt’s whitebread father. His quiet turmoil later in the show, oddly, is one of the most compelling emotive moments simply due to its relative silence. Opposite him is Jayne Entwhistle, whose portrayal of Walt’s mother is a pitch perfect rendition of the middle-American mom. However, I must particularly praise her as Wanda the line chef, a blink-and-you-miss-it character who (surprisingly) had some of the best lines and delivery of the entire show.

As a comedy, it’s hard to want more from Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist. Though (as is usual) a few jokes drag beyond their apex of funniness, it’s a tightly written and directed piece of absurdist theatre that knows exactly how to work its material. However, there’s an emotive undercurrent beneath the laughs, and it’s there that the show stumbles. Though by the end everything ties into a fairly satisfying pathos, the emotive content of the first half feels vestigial and undercooked compared to the piece’s stronger elements. Whilst certainly not a traditionally dramatic show by any means, it nevertheless lacked the emotional foundation needed to turn what is (admittedly) a great show into an outstanding one. That is perhaps the greatest frustration of director Tom Detrini’s work, which constantly teases at perfection but never holds it hard enough to stick.

Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist is a gem of the surreal comedy scene, and very much one to catch while you can. Lenk is a tour-de-force as Swinton, and worth every since flouncing, strange moment. You might not be able to explain what you’ve seen afterwards, but I can guarantee you’ll feel positively about it.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Jacob Close  (Seen 18 August)

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It’s True It’s True It’s True (Underbelly Bristo Square: Aug 16-25: 13:00: 1 hr)

“A deliriously engaging hour that combines essential social commentary, historical document, and top-notch courtroom drama.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

The Edinburgh Fringe offers many delightful kinds of attractions one could find in few other places; food, drink, venues, performances, people, et cetera. Perhaps the most exciting of them all, as I was reminded while watching Breach Theatre’s It’s True, It’s True, It’s True, is ideas. This production, while also filled with outstanding craft from top to bottom, breathes life into one of the most singularly creative ideas this festival has to offer.

Directed by Billy Barrett, and ‘written’ by Barrett and Ellice Stevens, this show demands to be taken as an essential piece of theatre. I say ‘written,’ because the script is translated verbatim from the real-life transcripts of a 1612 trial in Rome. The trial in question concerned whether pompous socialite Agostino Tassi had raped budding painter Artemisia Gentileschi (who went on to garner wide praise, success, and notoriety later in her life), and here lies the first inspired idea within Barrett and Stevens’ project. The transcript, translated from Latin and Italian, is an utterly fascinating document, considering what it implies about the sensibilities of the time surrounding status, sexuality, truth, lies, legacy, misogyny, and more. Of course, without needing to labor the point at all, Breach Theatre’s piece makes it quite clear that the conversations spoken back then about consent, assault, and accusations of unacceptable male behavior are hauntingly similar to ones the modern world has faced with increasing frequency over the last few years. One may find it at times difficult to believe the verbatim transcripts could include parallels so blatant as the moments where Tassi, arrogant and dismissive of the proceedings through and through, directly echoes the word of infamously accused men: “she’s not my type,” “she was asking for it,” “she’s a wh*re anyway,” and so on.

To bring these disarming moments to life, Barrett has assembled a blisteringly talented trio of actors, all of whom multi-role as various judges and testifiers, and all of whom are remarkably capable of stealing a scene. Sophie Steer, as Artemisia herself, is captivating from start to finish; her Artemisia is withdrawn at times, aggressive in others, defensive when she needs to be and just the right amount of multifaceted. Kathryn Bond, who plays numerous roles but most notably the Gentileschi house’s maid Tuzia, has an electric way of performing, so that she achieves exciting, lightning-fast delivery while also mining both pathos and hilarity in the process. But it is Harriet Webb, playing Tassi with a frighteningly familiar swagger, who edges out the top spot among the three. The smarm, threat, and cunning Webb pours into her depiction of Tassi make for an uncomfortably amusing concoction; some ought to beware, however, the searing condemnation of a certain ‘yah’ accent that gets thoroughly skewered as a sonic ‘red flag.’ Overall, though Webb’s performance captivated me the most, all three performers deserve immense credit for giving this piece an electric energy and impressive momentum.

Certain choices sporadically let this momentum down, however. The show is intermittently interrupted by musical transitions, which move the story along through the seven-month trial. The first thing one might notice is that a few of these simply take so long that the pace drops noticeably; a confounding design considering the actors are clearly in place and ready to leap back into the fray, but stay still waiting for the roaring punk interludes to wrap up. The spirit of the musical choices is very understandable — Breach clearly means to imbue the show with the snarling ferocity of the mostly female punk bands they sample. However, these songs drag the viewer out of the 1612 setting perhaps a little too far, especially considering they often come after relatively tame developments in the story. Hearing Tuzia describe Artemisia’s painting habits does not quite build up the energy to warrant a face-melting scream directly afterwards, and the effect is considerably less compelling than the many brilliant elements working so well elsewhere onstage.

The other place that could use some rethinking is the ending; after the mortifying interrogation of Artemisia is finished, the play changes tack into some surreal territory which does not quite hold together with the story that proceeds it or indeed to the disjointed gig-theatre-esque grand finale. This finale, though rousing, seems rather forced, with neither the songs sung nor the visuals introduced feeling relevant to the play’s eminently laudable initial concept. 

And to reiterate, the concept is unquestionably laudable. It’s True, It’s True, It’s True is a deliriously engaging hour that combines essential social commentary, a fascinating historical document, and the nail-biting tension of a top-notch courtroom drama. I was reminded repeatedly of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1960 film La vérité, a similarly fascinating dramatization of a similar trial, albeit with a multifaceted woman (played by Brigitte Bardot) on trial instead. Both have deeply nuanced and intelligent means of uncovering bitter truths about the way women are treated both by men and by the legal system, plus some tremendous female performances. La vérité shocks one today because its depiction of society feels unsettlingly relevant considering it was made 60 years ago; the effect of It’s True, It’s True, It’s True, then, considering its dialogue was initially spoken over 400 years ago, is downright infuriating. Credit to Breach Theatre for delivering such a play, for a second round at Fringe, with all the maddening ferocity this subject provokes, and then some. 

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

 

“Modern Maori Quartet: Two Worlds” (Assembly George Square Studios, until AUG 26 : 15:50 : 60mins)

“Absolutely everyone is saying you should go see it and that’s because everyone should absolutely go see it.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

There was a time when people actually read the newspapers. No, no, it’s true. Every day they took a few coins out of their pocket which were exchanged for the latest headlines, insight, and opinion. It wasn’t a perfect system, fake news and churnalism are nothing new, but it ticked along merrily enough. Then globalism happened. Then digitisation happened. And it turned out that those who own and operate newspapers have about as much collected wisdom as the Creator bestowed on a stick of celery. Hōhonu kaki, pāpaku nana.

Back in the day, the longest-running year-round show in Edinburgh was the collapse of the North British Newspaper. The coming of a new Scottish Parliament and Government, the continuing health of Scotland’s professional and service sectors, the growing significance as well as size of the capital’s festival season, meant there was more raw news than ever. The masses came online and there were even more ways to consume and digest news content than ever.

And yet, somehow, as the cricket ball of destiny gently arced towards the green, the outstretched hands of the fielding news industry were allowed to slip into pockets of mediocrity. The ball struck head-on even as the note of nonchalant condescension whistling from the Scottish media’s main mouthpiece reached its shrillest. With shoulders still shrugged, the impact stunned, concussed, and obliterated the North British Newspaper’s faculties, reducing the once proud and active player to a drooling spectator convalescing cantankerously in the pavilion.

Still, every year, all but dead, and definitely decaying, the North British Newspaper is solemnly wheeled into the commentary box to provide its two penny’s worth of insight into EdFringe. Older producers (though rarely any actual punters) convince themselves that unlike everyone else on Earth, the denizens of Edinburgh actually give a tinker’s fart what their crippled local newspaper has to say about anything. EdFringe was (and is) no less of a local or an analogue experience than reading the North British Newspaper on the train into Waverley. And yet EdFringe has not only survived but thrived in the new cultural landscape.

For an insight into why, one need look no further than ‘Modern Maori Quartet: Two Worlds’ – this season’s must-see toast of the town. Absolutely everyone is saying you should go see it and that’s because everyone should absolutely go see it. Firstly, because the show is beautifully presented. Four great looking guys in matching suits which, even at this late stage, are so sharp and well pressed you might cut your finger on them. Koro, Big Bro, Uncle, and Bub take to the stage for an hour of storytelling at its finest.

In less ambitious or dexterous hands the show’s premise might have come out a smidge goofy. But the quiet charm, relaxed confidence, and unashamed boldness of four matching, but totally different performances leave no room for doubting the effectiveness of the narrative architecture. We are given a privileged insight into the soul of a distant nation coming to terms with the passing of the old and the rise of the new. The stories are centre on unrequited love, unending grief, unsettling self-denial and, finally, most poignantly of all, the unravelling of hope. 

The music is soulful. The dance routines are measured and graceful (I’ve got my promised haka). This is the closest I may get to seeing the badinage, banter, and rehearsed spontaneity of the Rat Pack on stage in my lifetime. Culturally nourishing, intellectually stimulating, and physically elating – how tragic for all humanity that this show is not a snack food product.

What this show is, is a testament to what soul searching can do for a person and for a people. No answers have been provided when the house lights come back up, but the underlying questions of life, the universe, and everything have been defined and refined – which isn’t bad considering it’s pretty much just four blokes singing songs for an hour.

Britain right now is in the midst of a seemingly endless period of schism and interregnal discord. The toxic vapours of the public’s angry nostalgia and self-pitying hubris are left to fester by the breakdown of the traditional cultural cloud lifters such as the North British Newspaper. How fortunate it is then that the global presence of EdFringe can deliver a reaffirming shot of cultural adrenaline, sourced from far away nation tormented by the past, troubled in the present, and uncertain of the future. It’s a damn pity that, with the archbishop incapacitated and irrelevant, there is no one around to crown Modern Maori Quartet: Two Worlds kings of the Fringe ‘19 and joyfully exclaim, “Tēnā koe Kïngi o te Kīngitanga.”

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 17 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Foil, Arms and Hog – Swines (Underbelly, Bristo Square: Aug 18-25 : 21:00: 1hr)

image of event

“A tremendously talented bunch who made hard comedy look easy.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

I don’t think I’d ever been to see a Fringe show solo. I usually meet up with pals or drag my children. However, on Saturday, I thought I’d see what solo flying was like and trotted along to the McEwen Hall to see Foil, Arms and Hog.

My only experience of them had been via their cult YouTube clips being beamed into my social media feed from time to time – their ‘’Englishman plays Risk’’ and ‘’Brexit: Divorce’’ being the obvious examples. Beyond that I didn’t know too much about them: there were three of them. I didn’t understand the name. They were Irish. They went to University College Dublin. That was it. My lack of knowledge says more about me than them.

I suppose the old grey matter should have started zinging when I read the words ‘McEwen Hall’. This is one of the biggest venues at the Fringe. It was sold out. There must have been the best part of 1,000 people in the audience. Clearly these guys have a serious following and serious game.

Whilst many of you will have come across them via YouTube, they are a different proposition live and – in my view – a better proposition live. Go!

The first ten minutes were gloriously anarchic as the trio romped around the audience getting people involved in various ways: looking in people’s shopping bags, trying on coats, inspecting tickets etc.

It all looked very easy. As with everything, it clearly comes from months and years of practice. You only get that rapport with each other, the quickness of mind, the badinage, the ability to change things up and riff off each other through knowing each other inside out.

In crowd work, it is cheap and easy to mock the audience. Too many comedians do that. Some turn it into their entire act (and some reviewers lap it up. It is like giving the school bully an A grade). Foil, Arms and Hog have fun with their audience but try to make them co-stars of the show rather than the butt of a joke: that involves kindness, confidence and talent. Carmen and Rory – the two audience members who became stars – had a bit of gentle leg pulling but it was all done in the best of humours.

They then break into a series of sketches and songs all of which were clever, witty and laugh out loud funny.  Whilst I’ve bemoaned elsewhere the dreary politics of most comics at the Fringe their Brexit Song ‘’It’s hard to break free from a union’’ was both extremely funny and technically accomplished. If you are going to joke about politics at least try to do something different and witty: these guys certainly did. Their ‘’Guidelines’’ sketch had me in stitches. There was innuendo there but no smut. Again, that takes cleverness and a deft hand.

Each sketch worked well and covered a range of talents – musicianship, clever lyrics, extensive mime and more besides. The sketches ranged across many spheres: a gloriously hammy actor given a secret mission; Ludwig van Beethoven entering a talent show; a recurring stag do sketch; and a brilliant, almost indescribable mime show. My personal highlight was the sheer joy the three actors had particularly when they tried to corpse each other. I enjoyed them spinning off script and teasing each other throughout.

I liked all three of them enormously and did so even more when they bumped into the crowd on the way to the bar and shook everyone’s hand thanking them for coming along. They seemed to enjoy it as much as the fans. They are a tremendously talented bunch who made hard comedy look easy. This was the sort of humour that your teenage nephew would enjoy but also your mother-in-law. That, again, is quite something.

Whenever anyone views a sketch show they naturally begin to compare to the great sketch shows of the past and that terrifying word ‘’Python’’ begins to linger in one’s mind. Many shows are called Python-esque when they are really nothing of the sort. Foil, Arms and Hog are pythonesque in their inventiveness, their cleverness, their interplay and their use of so many different comic tools. I could have watched another hour. A must see.

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Rob Marrs (Seen 17 August)

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Don’t Mess with the Dummies (Underbelly Bristo Square: Aug 20-25 : 11:20 : 1hr)

“Done with skill, imagination and a real understanding of what kids love.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

Having started out Fringe adventures with the Splash Test Dummies we thought we’d visit the other act from the Dummies Corp ‘’Don’t Mess with the Dummies’. My daughter had been asking to see the ‘’girl dummies’’ since we had left the first show so it was time… largely to keep the last vestiges of my parental sanity intact.

The show starts out with three young explorers in a jungle. Over the course of an hour they try to read a map, pitch a tent, get into sleeping bags and eat a banana. That makes it sound routine it is anything but.

It was impossible not to warm to them. Their interplay and comic timing were spot on. The characterisations were very good and in large parts extremely funny. There was essentially no dialogue – a few words here and there – and they mostly communicated in funny noises. That is no mean feat over an hour and it all made sense.

Dummies Corp productions are an assault to the senses which bring together clowning, acrobatics, slapstick and much more besides: skipping ropes, puppetry, hula hoops, silly string, juggling and log-rolling. My eldest had one of the Dummies come up to her and throw popcorn in her mouth (don’t ask) whilst both of them were up and dancing in the aisles at various points.

It really is wonderful watching these shows with children – at one point, the Dummies perform the old gag of one person hiding behind a screen to make it look like another person has an extremely long arm. Both my kids were asking how they did it, how the lady had such a long arm. Others around us were prodding their parents and asking the same question. I think the world is probably a better place believing in that sort of stuff.

My personal highlight was the ‘Lion Sleeps tonight’ sketch with the sleeping bags. It was both inspired and hysterical. Slightly jaded and underslept 37-year-olds probably aren’t the target market for the gag but it really was very funny. I loved how they were in amongst the crowd a lot trying to involve the children. I loved the references throughout: nowhere else in the Fringe will acts perform to Mozart and to 2Unlimited.

One thing I particularly liked was that it was three women doing it. All too often these sorts of shows are all-male or majority male. It was great for everyone in the audience to see three hilarious women doing it. My eldest daughter – who adored the Splash Test Dummies – said she preferred this show because it was girls doing the funny stuff. That’s not a small thing. Indeed, all things considered, it is a pretty big one. My youngest – who is probably at the very bottom end of sitting through an hour – loved it.

It is impossible to watch Dummy Corp acts without a smile on your face. It is just good ol’ fashioned family fun but done with skill, imagination and a real understanding of what kids love. More please.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Rob Marrs (Seen 17 August)

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“Cirque Berserk!” (Pleasance at EICC : until AUG 25 : 13:30 18:30 : 60mins)

“There’s more room to manoeuvre in Elberel’s glass bottle, before the Mongolian contortionist has begun to emerge, than there is space left in Cirque Berserk’s running order.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

A duck walks into a bar and asks the barman for a pint of lager tops and a packet of sweet chilli and lemongrass crisps. “You’re a duck!” exclaims the barman, “And you can talk. That’s amazing.” “Yeah,” the duck says looking surprised, “I’ve just started work on the building site round the corner.” “Listen, friend,” muses the barman, “one of my regulars is a circus ringmaster. You need to talk to him. He is bound to have a job for you.” “Ringmaster of a circus,” considers the duck, stroking his bill, “with clowns and acrobats and the flying trapeze all in a big top made of canvas?” “That’s right,” says the bar encouragingly. The duck looks totally lost. “What would he need a plaster for?”

I was taught that one by an auld American EdFringe pal on the day I was formally inducted into the and International Patriarchy of Assorted Punsters, a secretive confraternity of dads dedicated to absolute control of global affairs and the telling of jokes that make you groan. “The trick,” my Yankee proposer assured me, “to telling the ‘duck walks into a pub’ story is to mess with the details. It’s never getting stale if you change the type of drink and the type of crisps to suit the occasion.” From that conversation, I took away a greater appreciation of how the American stand-up and storyteller went about his craft, about how only the truly great masters of their art can work to a formula without ever becoming formulaic.

Julius Green, Cirque Berserk’s Creative Director, as well as Martin Burton, the Founder and Producer, have cooked up a formula that always sells out without ever selling out. Cirque Berserk is an international amalgamation of talent. “A non-stop smorgasbord of more than thirty different circus skills,” according to the programme, featuring performers “from as far afield as Kenya, Cuba, Mongolia, Brazil, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, and even the UK!” The aim is to, “combine the centuries-old skills and traditions of the touring circus troupe with a contemporary approach to staging.”

“Was that really only an hour?” I wonder in astonishment as we shuffle towards the exit, the slowest anyone has moved in in the Lennox Theatre in what seems like a lifetime. Of all the superhuman feats achieved packing that much into the preceding 60mins has to be one of the most remarkable. There’s more room to manoeuvre in Elberel’s glass bottle, before the Mongolian contortionist has begun to emerge, than there is space left in Cirque Berserk’s running order. And all of it is as much on target as the arrows she fires with her feet.

The Timbuktu Tumblers are definitely who you would call upon to help steal the world’s largest cubic zirconia from the Springfield Museum. For me, they represent the essence and the core of the Cirque Berserk experience.  Human pyramids, jumping through hoops, limbo with fire – Acrobatics is probably an art form as ancient as painting pictures of bison and woolly mammoths on cave walls. It has been a part of the human experience since before there were streets to perform in. And yet, The Timbuktu Tumblers – who also provide much of the staging sinews as the later acts come on and off – feel as immediate and authentic as a tumbler of mature single malt as they distil the history, skill, and precision required to make a measure of great art seem artless and straightforward.

The acts that follow are a showcase of talent and skill that put all else this EdFringe into the shade. There are Argentinian Bolas, the incredibly moving Four Hands & Two Wheels, strength, beauty, human catapults, knife throwing, aerial acrobatics, the best foot juggler in the world, a giant death robot, a tower of chairs and, to crown all, the extraordinary sound and fury of the Lucius Team with their motorcycles and Globe of Death – a coup de théâtre that has never been brought to a theatre before. And yet, there is a little something there that’s missing.

The most memorable revues are underpinned by an underlying narrative. A story that weaves the disparate elements together into a unified whole. The potential for such a narrative within Cirque Berserk is hinted at by the massive stage presence of Paulo dos Santos. The Brazillian native stands 3ft 6ins in his sneakers, but he dominates proceedings with his clowning, juggling, balancing, and crazy dangerous acrobatics. Together with the very lovely ladies of the Berserk Dancers & Aerial Ballet, he tells (without speaking) an over the rainbow tale of high ambition brought low. With a little bit more tweaking that (for me) essential element of traditional circus, the Ringmaster, could have been introduced while adding the very real bonus of delivering even more of the dos Santos magic. But that really is just me.

This is not a show that should be seen by dad’s of a nervous disposition, the kind who seem to spend their days strongly suggesting to preschoolers that they need to be more careful. It’s all I can do not to charge the stage, stand at the bottom to the 20-foot tower of chairs constructed by Fidel Silot and scream at the Cuban daredevil to, “get down from there this instant. Go perform the trick of sitting at the bottom of the stairs and thinking about what you’ve done.”

Daughter 1.0 (aged 4), by contrast, has entered a state of nirvana that Kung Fu Panda’s Master Oogway could only achieve by sitting alone in a cave for thirty years asking one question. It took Picasso four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child. Oh! to be able to see Cirque Berserk through eyes that have no sense that what they are watching is not what the rest of the world is like. Of all our shared EdFringe ‘19 experiences, this has been the highlight. It’s not just that the memories will linger, most likely forever, but that the most essential lesson a parent can teach a child has been demonstrated beyond dispute. “Baby girl what is impossible? I whisper as Alan Pagnota stands behind Rafael Ferrerira’s wheelchair and the crowd goes wild for the duo. “Nothing is impossible,” she rejoins without a trace of doubt in her voice.

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 17 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

How to Mend the World with a Student Play (TheSpace on the Mile: Aug 16-17, 19-24 : 21:55: 45 mins)

“Delivers on every comedic promise it makes.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Nae Bad 

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say I’ve spent a sizeable chunk of my time in the arts. From HSLC Stage School (Hi Karen!) to these years at Edinburgh49, it’s been at least a few hundred hours of devotion sunk into the discipline of playing pretend. And, like a new parent, whilst this longterm commitment has given me an unquenchable affection for the stage, it has also filled me with a deep, bitter disdain. Disdain for self-righteous, zeitgeist-y directing; disdain for “visionaries” who make a lot of noise yet do nothing new; and dark, roiling acidic disdain for shows made to be edgy for the sake of fashionability.

There are many, many reasons to like How To Mend The World With a Student Play. In the service of objectivity, I will go through all of them at gleeful length. But my greatest admiration of this play is entirely personal, and entirely biased: Hyde-like, it has given voice to my worst impulses, and done so beautifully.

The premise of the play is simple: four students try and put together a new, #groundbreaking production of The Crucible in the forty five minutes they have before a funding meeting. To say any more than that would ultimately be pointless: How To Mend The World is a masterclass in comedic farce. There is no great plot twist or consolatory ending. In truth, there’s barely even a plot at all. This is a show that relies entirely on the ability of its actors and the quality of its character writing to justify its existence, and does so in spades.

The show presents itself with gleeful scathingness from the moment its actors arrive onstage: characters Jonty (Francis Nunnery) Felicity (Matilda Price) and Christian (Liam Hurley) offer deliciously satirical yet lovingly realised portrayals of the variously smug, unstable and utterly pathological millieu of the student stage scene. This entire review could be a rote praise-list for the talent of these three actors. Price somehow combines pitch-perfect character work with machine gun delivery speed, bouncing from outburst to outburst like an anxious pinball. Hurley, a man very obviously at home in physical comedy, presents the emotionally unstable Christian as equal parts likable, pitiable, and utterly infuriating. And Nunnery, saddled with the hardest character to make standable, brings a precise yet cartoonish spark to Jonti Bailey-Higgins that somehow justifies every terrible, terrible thing he does.

Special praise must also be given to Ollie Tritton-Wheeler, portraying the piece’s straight man Ben Hackett. Foils in comedy walk a constant tightrope between obvious audience mouthpiece and smug know-it-all, yet Tritton-Wheeler is content doing cartwheels on the rope instead. He is aggressively relatable and damn funny in his own right, managing to take an essential part of the comedy formula and really make it his own.

There is a raw consistency present in How to Mend the World, which runs systematically through every component of production. Though its staging is simple and its theatrical techniques basic, they’re incorporated like gears in a pendulum clock. The intent behind even the smallest FX flourish is at once immediately apparent, and completely fulfilled. Every comedic swoop and dive, whether reliant on human or technical resources, stuck the landing. Despite appearances, this production is clearly one where the idea of theatre as craftsmanship has flourished.

With craftsmanship in mind, special dues must be given to the writing. Devised pieces are mercurial creatures, entirely made or broken in the rehearsal room and unfortunately prone to acute textual bloat. Here, not so. The script for this production is undeniably tight, unavoidably witty and – perhaps most importantly – unmistakeably written from a place of first hand knowledge. I’ve met every character in How to Mend the World in jaundiced dressing rooms and smoky back exits. The genuineness of director Joshua Silverlock’s work lends it a palpable solidity, and keeps the material fresh by nature. Creating work like that is hard enough to do alone, let alone by committee. And yet, it is so.

I savoured every moment of How to Mend the World with a Student Play. It is a precious thing: a theatrical product which delivers on every comedic promise it makes, and doesn’t stop until its subjects are wrung out husks. If that alone isn’t worth the price of admission, then I don’t know what is.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 14 August)

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