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Fringe 2008 Reviews (83)

The Search for Sunshine
Platform
Baby Belly
****

Creating a portrayal of Death in a form that makes sense to humanity is one of the oldest struggles in human fiction. Platform make a more interesting job of it than most by showing us an insight into the life of death and his failure to comprehend the lives of those whose existence he lives to end. Played as an easily distracted eccentric who lives in a cave, this embodiment of the grim reaper has him telephoning God to find out what time it'll all be finished and addressing the audience to show them his latest accordion versions of James Bond themes.

This bizarre comedic set is interspersed with performances from the three actresses. Rather than telling a coherent story, the vignettes are fragmentary pieces of life, constructed to resemble the flitting moments of life passing through the mind of the dying. Re-playing a cringe-worthy night at a party until the point it becomes almost almost painfully sad to watch is made all the more harsh when it is death himself that insists on its repetition. What is most interesting is that, despite Death's friendly attitudes, it becomes apparent that considering his actions and the task allotted him, it serves him better to live such a curious existence divorced from any real understanding of the way humanity works, something hammered home by his impromptu stand-up routine of terribly bad jokes about deaths and tragedy. All in all, it's a novel and triumphant piece of theatre which plays on the bleakness of existence with a wry smile and wit.

Graeme Strachan

Richard Herring: The Headmaster's Son
Richard Herring
Underbelly
*****

Throwing his all into this production; Richard Herring delves back into his life and tries to examine whether it now can be put down to the single formative fact that for several years his father was the Headmaster of his school, putting him in the unfortunate position of being both accused of unfair advantages at school by his peers and of being treated far more strictly by his father.

So it's with this as a basis that he goes off into a rollicking journey through both his own neurosis and the problems that face the average teenager anywhere. It's baffling why Herring has failed to ignite the popular consciousness in the same manner in which his peers have, but it may be something to do with his own self-deprecation seeming far more alarmingly apparent than in most others. Not that this detracts from the show: instead it brought the audience closer to him, as he clawed back old memories and moments of crippling embarrassment from his early days, even going so far as to read entire passages from his lengthy diaries and happily ridiculing the masturbatory habits of his teenage self for the benefit of the crowd.

It's rare to see someone so comfortable with his own shortcomings, real or imagined, and as a result his honesty to the point of near madness, combined with his hysterically funny tone and brilliant timing, show why he is one of the leading hidden masters of modern British comedy. If there is any justice in the world, and no doubt both the 40 and the 16 year old Richards would tell you there was not, then this show will be sold out every night.

Graeme Strachan

The Darkling Plain
Bloody Lovely Productions
Underbelly
****

The war in Afghanistan has been a staple of the Fringe's critical and sardonic view for several years now, but in a twist on the usual discourse, Bloody Lovely productions have instead turned the conflict into a clever pastiche of early wartime movies, complete with dickie officers, plucky young lads eager for the front and everyone quite sure that it'll be all over by Christmas. Taking inspiration from Noël Coward's Brief Encounter, this witty play shows the outbreak of an American war on terror, and the effect it has on the family of Major Carruthers, including his gung-ho war-mad son, cynical daughter and patient Women's Institute-obsessed wife, and then the effects on them all as war takes grip on Britain.

Managing to tie in most of the modern controversies of the recent unpleasantness - friendly-fire, supply problems and political motivations behind military action - this play also has a bittersweet quality, as the burgeoning romance between two of the young men on the front line makes itself plain in a manner both hysterical and tragic. On the surface there is a brilliant comedy at work here, brimming with good ideas and full of exuberance on the part of the skilled cast; but underneath there is also a very clear and cutting anti-war message which is summed up with beautiful simplicity in the heartbreaking closing moments, which are as timeless and true in any era.

Graeme Strachan

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©Peter Lathan 2008