105  Reviews for the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival (In order from most enjoyable to least)

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Welcome to the 2014 version of my Fringe reviews.  I will wait until I have seen twenty shows before posting my first reviews to allow me to develop a reasonable star system.  I will again tailor 10 days of my schedule to that of my friend Tim’s.  He is much more knowledgeable about the production qualities of the companies.  You can see my 2014 schedule.  You can find out about me, and my extended thoughts about reviewing at the bottom of this page.  I think that the most useful aspect for my readers is the rankings.  I base the rankings on my enjoyment of the show, so they may not reflect the quality of the script and/or acting.  I prefer plays to comedy acts, but work in a little of the latter for diversity.  I have discovered that I have a penchant for true stories.  The comments are usually only three sentences long because I have little time between shows, and, after all, I am here for the shows.  You can also see my 152 reviews for 2013 Fringe, 135 reviews for 2012 Fringe, 175 reviews for 2011 Fringe,  200 reviews for 2010 Fringe, 177 reviews for 2009 Fringe, 153 reviews for 2008 Fringe, 162 reviews for 2006 Fringe, and 151 reviews for 2005 Fringe.  I always enjoy chatting with both audience members and dramatic artists.  If you wish to contact me, send e-mail to Sean Davis.

You can change the sorting column of the table below by first clicking anywhere in its header.  Each succeeding click in the header sorts the table by the column clicked.  Succeeding clicks of a column will reverse the previous sort order.  I have now added a Date column so that returning viewers can sort by it to see my most recent reviews. (The ranking numbers are bit messed up to allow this, but I haven’t had the time to debug the change in Word that causes the problem)

 

 

Rank

Title and Review

Venue

Times

Date

1.       

Lungs (*****)  A man and woman argue over whether to have a baby or not.  The pair achieve a perfect balance as she wavers and rants, and he patiently give his opinion and expresses his love for her.  The theater-in-the-round is ideal when he stands at the center, and she paces around him.

Roundabout @ Summerhall

13:50 – 15:10

11

2.       

Kingmaker (*****)  A powerful woman Tory MP, the presumptive Tory Prime Minister candidate, and his young competitor have a secret meeting that may have a bearing on the election.  This is an engaging verbal fight full of political thrusts and parries as each person appears to gain the upper hand at times.  If you political intrigue, then you will love this.

Pleasance Courtyard

15:00 – 16:00

4

3.       

Camille O’Sullivan: 10 (*****)  The Irish singer agĝain provided her typical personal show that is a mix of quiet ballads and Joplinesque rock with her wishing the amps had an 11.  I marvel at how she can make a huge room full of people feel like they are all on her personal journey.  Even though she had a troubling cough, this seemed like the best concert of the five of hers I have seen. 

Assembly Rooms

21:45 – 23:15

7

4.       

The Bastard Children of Remington Steele (*****)  Three orphans discover another orphan who lives in the attic and thinks she is the daughter of the TV detective based on repeatedly watching three episodes on a VCR.  The quirkiness of the “daughter,” and the generosity and need for family of the three proved heartwarming and sincere.  Though I enjoyed the series, it is quickly explained at the beginning, and I don’t think it will be a stumbling block for others.

Underbelly

15:30 – 16:30

8

5.       

Light (*****)  Brain implants connect most people in one large network, and some people are starting to rebel against the leader’s attempt to control them.  This show takes place in a completely dark room, in which sound effects and LED light bars can create a surprisingly wide range of effective visual effects.  Most memorable are the seemingly street block long chases that cover only twenty feet.

Pleasance Dome

17:15 – 18:35

8

6.       

On the Upside Down World (*****)  Based on the memoirs of the wife of first High Judge of  New Zealand, that wife relates both her direct experiences with Maori as she develops close relationships with some, including an adopted son, and the political and martial events during her twenty year stay.   Her early adoption of a chief’s seven-year old son, and mix of motherly love and continued feeling of cultural superiority gave the story more complexity than a simple tale of growing appreciation of the Maori.  Because I spent six weeks touring New Zealand, and developed a tremendous respect for the Maori, I found her enlightenment heart warming.

Assembly Roxy

13:15 – 14:30

5

7.       

Spoiling (*****)  An Irishman is sent by the Scottish National Party to ensure that their firebrand Foreign Minister in waiting will deliver a bland speech when meeting the UK Foreign minister.  The sparring and revelations of the mutually suspicious pair is both incisive and clever.  Her purity of spirit proves both dangerous and winning. 

Traverse Theatre

varies

12

8.       

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (*****)  In 1971, the gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson is hired to cover a desert race in Las Vegas, and then to cover a convention of District Attorneys dealing with drug use.  Together with his attorney, this is a wild, hallucinogenic-filled ride back into the 1960s that swept me away with their outrageous pronouncements and bizarre visions brought to life on the stage.  Their episode with a young hitchhiker reminded me of my own near death experience when two wild men in a convertible picked me up and then proceeded to speed along a curvy river road until the front wheel collapsed under the front suspension and we somehow slid to a safe stop.

Pleasance Courtyard

16:30 – 18:00

15

9.       

Cuckooed (*****)  Comedian Mark Thomas combines anecdotes from his protests and ruses with video interviews of his friends to layout how BAE Systems, the largest British arms manufacturer, planted a spy in the anti-arms organization with which he was associated.  His tale of bike locking himself to a truck axle was both admirable and funny.  His most memorable ruse was setting up a booth at an arms dealing conference, and convincing an Indonesian general to admit on tape that his army violated the civil rights of his countrymen.

Traverse Theatre

varies

14

10.   

Thrill Me:  The Leopoldo and Loeb Story (*****) With a piano accompaniment list, this is the true story from the 1920s of a young fellow who follows his lover as they commit more and more serious crimes.  The pair are well mismatched as the sycophant is torn by his love and morality, and the self-centered object of his affections thinks of himself as a Nietzschean Superman.  The play has a satisfying twist at the end.

C Chambers St.

20:55- 22:15

2

11.   

Dear Mr. Kaiser (*****)  Based on a true story, a World War I POW asks permission of the Kaiser to return to England to visit his dying mother, and promises to return in ten days.  This is a charming, and heart warming story that is all the more powerful because it is true.  The conflict between his honor as a British officer to escape, and his honor to keep his word to the Kaiser allow us to feel humanity overcoming war.  

Bedlam Theatre

12:00 – 13:00

6

12.   

Chatroom (*****)  Four teenagers welcome a depressed teen to their local chatroom, but a pair have sinister plans for him.  From the verbally skilled manipulator to the raw, suicidal boy, each of the five plays their part perfectly.  The final scenes work beautifully so that each remains true to character.

C Nova

20:20 – 21 :15

8

13.   

The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland (*****)  I am sorry to say that I will not give you the plot of this one because that would destroy an essential part of the experience.  Don’t try reading a synopsis.  There are subtleties in the performance that you will only discover after discussing it with others after the play.

Summerhall

12:00 -13:00

11

14.   

Richard Herring: Lord of the Dance Settee (*****)  Unlike previous shows that had a focal topic, this is a collection of anecdotes and observations from disparate parts of Herrings life.  It really doesn’t matter because Herring is the consummate comedian who never pauses as he reels off one funny piece after another.  Nonetheless, I hope he returns to his research because no one does that as well as he does.

Assembly George Square

22:45 – 23:45

5

15.   

Naked in Alaska (*****)  Valerie Hager tells of her life as a drug addict who dropped out of high school, but cleaned up her act, and at twenty followed her friend, Raven, into 15 year career as an exotic dancer.  As her career blossoms under Raven’s tutelage, the relationship slowly changes as Valerie becomes more self-confident, and Raven’s domineering ways begin to interfere with dancing community.  Hager has the fine acting skills to convey the back stage stories of her friends, and has retained the gymnastic skill to suspend herself in many difficult positions on a pole.

Assembly Roxy

19:00 -20:00

8

16.   

Waiting for Hitchcock (*****)  After his projector fails, our host entertains the audience with a combination of classic and novel up close magic tricks.  He finishes with his rendition of Hitchcock’s first movie filled with magical creations out of thin air.  I love magic, and Jägerhorn’s sleight of hand is top notch, and his animated music stands are great fun.

Hill Street Solo Theatre

18:30 – 19:35

3

17.   

The Quant (*****)  A financial modeler teaches an investment bank’s risk management course that covers both risk factors and the more seedy side of the business.  This is quite well written and educational, but  people without a financial bent would probably give it four stars.  I found his back stories about the individual quants who caused billions of losses particularly fascinating.

Hill Street Solo Theatre

20:05 – 21:00

3

18.   

The Big Bite-Size  Plays Breakfast (Menu 2)  (*****) These five plays cover neighborly competition, optimizing life experiences, insensitive dating games, reactions to Islamic head scarves, and dealing with a transported 15th century clan chief as a romantic competitor.  This was a good line-up with three strong dramas bookended by two absurd comedies.  I found “Lunchbreak Manifesto” the most intriguing as a young woman has vowed to herself to make better use of her free time by doing something completely different every noon hour; in this case she explores motherhood by cuddling a baby doll on a park bench while talking to a stranger.

Pleasance Dome

10:30 - 1130

3

19.   

The Capone Trilogy: Loki (*****)  In 1940s film noir hotel room, a sexy singer must contend with multiple suitors and the cops.  This is the way a farce should be done: frantic, but not loud.  We are treated to her continual consternation as inconvenient questions, and her lies pile up on her.

C Nova

14:00 – 15:15

8

20.   

The Curious Incident of the Frog in My Sightline (*****)  A young man wakes up to find himself in a world composed completely of frogs, and comes upon a herpetologist who only too readily spouts factoids about frogs.  This is a slight, whimsical show that kept its course, and just hit all the right spots for me.  I cannot forget learning of the real paradoxical frog whose offspring are larger than the adults, and then shrink as they become frogs.

Zoo Southside

11:50 – 12:30

10

21.   

The Curing Room (*****)  In 1945, six naked Russian soldiers are left locked in a barren castle room when the Germans retreat.  This is the most intense play I have seen at the Fringe this year.  It is gritty, gory, and gruesome, but it is all in the service of giving a sense of verisimilitude that is missing from similar stories.

Pleasance Dome

12:00 – 13:30

14

22.   

Pss Pss (*****)  A silent man and woman use a few props to create a varied circus act.  Just the need to reach a trapeze bar leads to a routine with a ladder that lasts an entertaining ten minutes before it actually gets set-up.  For me, the woman’s expressions were constantly beguiling. 

Zoo Southside

18:50 – 19:55

10

23.   

Thief (*****)  The “Sailor” tells his life’s story as a male prostitute who makes his living in the seediest bars by attracting high end clients and then customers, having sex, and then taking their money.  For me, this is a tale of how childhood emotional deprivation in a squalid environment can lead to a man an asocial self-loathing man who can only find a connection to life through thrill seeking and cutting.  His treatment of his one loyal friend epitomized this.

Hill Street Solo Theatre

21:30 – 22:20

3

24.   

Voca People (****)  Eight aliens from the planet Voca must create enough a cappella music to recharge their space ship.  After learning English and music from my companion, Tim, the group starts off with a ten-minute tour de force medley of recent pop tunes.  Though they have cute dance routines, and great voices, the rest of the show is dependent on audience participation, and does not come close to matching the opening act.

Pleasance Courtyard

18:00 – 19:10

11

25.   

Nothing (****)  After an audience member chooses one of several characters to start as well as a number from one to three, the cast emerges from among the audience to tell their stories.  The number indicates which of the three stories the first actor must tell, but the other actors are free to choose which of their three they will characterize and how and when they will they will speak up, including improvised interruptions.  While the style of presentation is novel, it is the disjoint stories themselves that make this show work so well.

Summerhall

19:50 – 11:45

17

26.   

Title and Deed by Will Eno (****)  A visitor tells of his life and the odd customs of his native land.  Just his halting speech pattern with its expansive silences makes the character fittingly alien.  I loved his description of his culture’s method of wooing by choosing the musical instrument that you have never played and then serenading your lover.

Assembly Hall

18:05 – 19:15

7

27.   

The Rat Pack – Live (****)  Backed by a ten piece band, Frank, Dean, and Sammy clown around and sing standards as well as some interesting, more obscure, songs.  This is part of my first day ritual because it is consistently a pleasure to watch, though I may have become a little jaded.  I appreciated that the musical director allowed more instrument solos this year, and the wonderful ad libs “Dean” had when handed an anachronistic wireless microphone to replace his faulty wired one.

C Chambers St

19:50 – 20:45

2

28.   

Dalloway (****) Rebecca Vaughan recreates the world of Virginia Wolff’s Clarissa Dalloway by portraying the ten main characters from the novel.  I found it remarkable that the play offered enough of each character to create a satisfying whole.  On the other hand, to achieve that the play is so dense with words that I both admired Vaughan’s stamina, and felt that the play became too exhausting for me.

Assembly Roxy

11:30 – 12:55

5

29.   

The Blues Brothers – Live (****)  Jake and Elwood are back with two back singers and a sextet to provide rock and blues from the 1960s.  This show is part of my first and last day ritual for the Fringe because I like to get a chance to get out and dance to some good music.  The band is tight, the singers talented, the musical director is having a good time, and the entire audience always gets out of their seats and shakes their booties. 

C Chambers St.

22:40 – 23:35

2

30.   

Reduced Shakespeare Company in The Complete History of Comedy (abridged)  The three men bring their professional stylings to comedy by initially providing a chronology of comedy, and then look at the types of comedy based on a recently “discovered” Chinese text on the subject.  I admire how they take their well organized presentation formula, and get the most fun out of it.  However, I did not find it funny when their ancient author creation, Rebozo, became a god. 

Pleasance Courtyard

13:05 – 14:20

9

31.   

Sanitise (****)  This physical theater piece has a woman obsessed with cleanliness finding joy in an unusual ways.  The bathroom set, with its tub, sink, and toilet, provide the perfect environment for her to exhibit her attention to detail in her search for dirt.  Though she finds some satisfaction in a mail order a dominatrix outfit, it is clear that she can only really find release in the yin of her yang.

Underbelly

22:00 – 23:00

4

32.   

This is Living (****)  After she drowns and her 3-year old daughter almost drowns, a woman continues to interact with her husband when he is asleep.  Their meetings allow them to lovingly help each other reconcile themselves to the accident by reviewing their past and preparing him to be a single dad.  Their tenderness and love was quite heart warming.

Bedlam Theatre

23:00 – 0:00

6

33.   

Bill Clinton Hercules (****)  A Clinton impersonator provides interesting anecdotes of his life in Arkansas and Washington D.C.  As a political junkie, I found his behind the scenes stories wonderful.  As was fitting, the show ran beyond its time slot because of a boring, longwinded polemic at the end.

Assembly George Square

14:00 – 15:10

10

34.   

Kate (****)  During World War II, a nice rural young woman comes to Reykjavik, Iceland and discovers how the British soldiers have impacted her uncle’s family.  By having the uncle run a kiosk for the army, as well as have a daughter this well designed play has the opportunity to look at both the social and economic consequences of the British “invasion.”  The problem with play for me is that it raises issues of child molestation, and blackmail that the epilogue completely ignores.

Pleasance Courtyard

13:45 – 14:45

4

35.   

The Despondent Divorcee (****)  In the late 1940s, a young reporter gathers the facts about unknown woman who jumps to her death at the re-opening of a New York hotel.  By combining flashbacks, and his own interviews with the large cast a complete picture of the web of connections among hotel staff develops nicely.  With some facts revealed by the woman’s sister in the final scene, I felt that there was evidence that the sister may have been murdered, which would have suited the film noir sensibility of the play.

C cubed

19:00 – 20:00

17

36.   

Anthem for a Doomed Youth (****)  Guy Masterson reads selected stories and poems from World War I.  This is a very personal presentation and Masterson clearly empathizes with the men who fought in the trenches.  From the Christmas truce to stories of battles in quagmire trenches, his selections are thoughtful, and I admire his efforts to rein in his emoting to avoid tainting the soldier’s efforts.

Assembly Roxy

16:20 – 17:30

7

37.   

The Big Bite-Size Plays Breakfast (Menu 3) (****) The five short plays cover Mothra displaying his acting versatility, an omniscient fellow, a prim but sexually distracted schoolteacher, an overly sensitive husband and an accountant trying to form a friendship, and a film noir send up.  As usual, all are well done, and worth watching.  I found the “Answer Man” most intriguing as we follow a young woman wasting her limited question as she learns that she is free to ask anything of him, and yet, in the end, discovers that she (and I) have no big question that needed to be answered.

Pleasance Dome

10:30 – 11:30

4

38.   

The Player’s Advice to Shakespeare (****) An actor in Shakespeare’s company decides he must leave London to join the tenant farmers who are rebelling against the landlords who are evicting them in order to raise sheep.  Though the entry point is London stage life, the meat of the play is his gritty tale of life outside the city with its vagabonds, filth, gruesome punishments, idealists, and doomed clashes between the rebels and the well armed forces of authority.  In the end, we are faced with the fact that Shakespeare wrote for the wealthy and ignored the plight of the masses.

C Nova

19:15 – 20:45

5

39.   

Dead to Me (****)  A skeptical businessman uses a gift certificate to visit a psychic.  The psychic is lovely to him, and quite happy and free when she is alone.  In the end, his evolution and her reaction work very well together, and left me more fearful of him than her.

 

 

 

40.   

Tape (****)  A druggy invites a friend from high school to his hotel room with a plan of learning what really happened on a date at the end of their senior year.  At the time, I was annoyed by his setting the scene by emptying beer cans to make the room more disheveled, but in hindsight I realize that that act fits the man who spends his life obsessively planning but cannot handle the curves that life throws him.  The epilogue, and the fact that the incriminating tape is at times readily available to the blackmailed fellow both are drawbacks.

C too

2:15 - 23:25

10

41.   

Traverse Breakfast Plays: The Broth (****)  When the daughter and adult granddaughter visit her grandmother, they find her relaxing at the kitchen table with the grandfather slumped dead in the middle of the table.  This black comedy moves back and forth from drama to farce as the plot twists.  The grandfather looked a lot like my Scottish friend Brian.

Traverse Theatre

9:00 – 9:45

12

42.   

The Initiate (****)  When his son is bullied because of news of pirates in Somalia, a Somali cab driver decides to raise money and return to his homeland to negotiate the freedom of a kidnapped English couple.  His initial dealing with his family is caring and motivating, and the visit to Somalia is engrossing, but the ambiguity of final act left me dissatisfied.  A fire alarm went off in the middle, but the actors did a marvelous job of re-entering their roles when we returned to the theater.

Roundabout @ Summerhall

13:50 – 15:10

15

43.   

Unfaithful (****)  A middle-aged plumber is seduced by a young woman, and then must deal with the fallout when he tells his wife.  The ramifications of the taciturn husband’s lies, and the neglected wife’s reactions keep the plot interesting.  The seducer and her gigolo boyfriend are not nearly as well drawn

Traverse Theatre

varies

13

44.   

The Secret Wives of Andy Williams (****)  A young novitiate is sent to an abbey/orphanage populated with quirky nuns and orphans.  This is prequel to “The Bastard Children of Remington Steele,” focuses more on the nuns’ odd habits including wearing a TV antenna hat so they can watch the Andy Williams show.  The whimsy and warmth is toned down a bit, but while these are occasionally “bad nuns”, there are always good people.

Underbelly

15;30 – 16:30

16

45.   

Dame Diana Rigg:  No Turn Unstoned (****)  The actress intersperse excerpts from her book that is a collection of worst actor’s reviews with anecdotes from her life.  Though the excerpts are entertaining, I think the audience wanted to hear more about her life.  There was an opportunity for questions at the end, but I would have preferred a more thorough reflection by the actress.

Assembly Checkpoint

13:20 – 14:35

16

46.   

Sirens (****) Six young women address the plight of women through screaming, song, jokes, video images, and the spoken word.  From the first chorus of screams, I knew I was in for the unique exploration of a topic that this Belgian company has created over the years.  They are no longer kids, but their can still create a coherent message from disjoint, and sometimes seemingly chaotic, acts.

Summerhall

20:30 – 21:50

16

47.   

Torsten the Bareback Saint (****)  Andy Bell, lead singer of the band Erasure, s backed by a keyboardist and videos to sing of the life of Torsten.  Bell’s voice is topnotch, the music is very good, and the lyrics often vocative, but there is no coherent story here.  Who could forget Bell in full spiked heels and hose.

Assembly George Square

18:30 – 19:30

13

48.   

Dracula (****)  Dracula sees the photo of the fiancée of the realtor visiting his castle in Transylvania, and decides that he must travel to London to have her.  Every actor in this large musical can play multiple instruments so the sound is full and varied as well as loud.  However, because of the volume, I could rarely understand the lyrics.

Pleasance Courtyard

21:20 – 22:35

14

49.   

The Capone Trilogy: Vindici (***)  In 1942 Chicago, a cop lays a trap for the man his thinks killed his wife.  This is done in the classic, gritty film noir style with fine acting throughout.  The huge problem is that they chose to do this in a cramped, hot, hotel room with lousy sight lines that prevented me from seeing significant aspects of the story.  If you go, then sit in the front row near the entrance door.

C Nova

20:40 – 21:45

5

50.   

Replay (***)  A piano teacher becomes obsessed with her young pupil.  While such a plot description makes it sound like a story focused on sexual pedophilia, it seems to be more about a sensitive musician who forms a deep connection to a boy because of his playing.  His naiveté and her own confusion make for a complex mix.

C Cubed

21:15 – 22:15

5

51.   

God is in My Typewriter (***)  Anna-Mari Laulumaa portrays the life of the troubled life of poet Anne Sexton by starting with physical theatre, and then mixes therapy sessions with excerpts from her life.  As could be expected with these sources, the theme was Sexton’s fragile mental states, and their familial sources.  Laulumaa maintains the delicate balance of despair and emotional intensity without exhausting me.

Hill Street Solo Theatre

16:30 – 17:35

3

52.   

Chlorine (***)  A manic young woman singer learns to deal with the other patients and her supervisor in a mental word.  She and her companion do a fine job of swinging in and out of coherence as they both improve in fits and starts.  When her companion picks up an electric guitar and the supervisor plays a snare drum, the trio produced some entertaining songs too.

Zoo Southside

12:45 – 13:45

10

53.   

Wingman (***) As his mother is dying of cancer, a fellow’s long absent father suddenly injects himself into the man’s life.  The man’s efforts to exclude his persistent and obnoxious father are both humorous and futile.  Though I slowly warmed to the father, and thus the play, Tim readily accepted him and the play.

Pleasance Dome

14:10 – 15:25

14

54.   

God on Trial (***)  The day before they will be gassed at Auschwitz, the Jews in a barracks decide to hold a trial to decide whether God has broken his covenant with the Jews.  This has a good mix of the horrific facts of the concentration camp, Biblical citations, and jurisprudence.  The final pronouncement by the presiding “judge,” a non-Jew, seemed judicially weak.

C nova

19:50 – 21:00

11

55.   

Eden Gate (***)  This elaborate production has the audience treated as a group of survivors in a secure building who are seeking a cure from a virus that has reduced the population to 300,000 people.  Both the whole process of badges, examinations, and intelligence tests as was well as a covert conspiracy plot fit the setting, and I appreciated how the cast subtly supervised the chaos of the revolt.  It was interesting to see how poorly I handled the situation, and I wish they had set aside time to learn of how other audiences had performed.

C nova

13:15 – 14:05

17

56.   

Traverse Breakfast Plays: Fat Alice (***) An incompetent philanderer and his longtime girlfriend must deal with a huge foot suddenly extending through her ceiling from the apartment above.  The comedy arising from the discovery of their huge neighbors works well, but nowhere do we see a reason for the girlfriend to stay with this chronically indecisive man.  Here aghast description of her encounter with a woman who fills a room is wonderfully evocative.

Traverse Theatre

9:00 – 9:45

15

57.   

Altamont (***)  A middle-aged guy in mutton chops and a tasseled leather vest plays a young man going to the huge, free rock concert in 1968 at the Altamont Speedway near San Francisco that saw a man killed by the Hells Angel as the Rolling Stones played “Under My Thumb.”  He does an excellent of describing the both the physical and social scene of the day’s chaos as the people tried to find peace, love, and drugs in a venue that was ill prepared for such a massive turnout.  As a former hippie who grew near Altamont, I think I found his appearance disconcerting, and think the show would be much improved if it was presented as a reminiscence.

C nova

14:20 – 15:20

17

58.   

Ennio Marchetto: The Living Paper Cartoon (***)  Using popular music associated with celebrities and characters, seemingly every minute Marchetto changes into a new paper costume that he can unfold into the costume of another popular person.  His costumes are creative, and often amazing, and the music often rousing, but his selection of celebrities is problematic because of the diverse audience.  The young people don’t get the references to old film stars, and the older people, like me, don’t recognize many of the current pop icons.

Pleasance Courtyard

22:30 – 23:30

15

59.   

Little on the Inside (***)  Two Black women form a tight bond in their first day of prison.  The relationship develops on many planes, from physical to sharing fantasies.  Most memorable is the scene when the taciturn woman demands that the other woman lie about something, even something inconsequential, and she cannot seem to do it well.

Summerhall

17:00 – 17:40

16

60.   

Every Brilliant Thing (***) When six years old, to combat his mother’s depression, the playwright/actor began making a list of the brilliant things in the world, and then kept at it.  As we entered he gave each of us a slip of paper with a numbered item from the list, and during the show he would call a number and the member holding that item would read it out loud.  There is a building momentum of joy as we learn of his life as the list grows, but, in the end, this felt like a hollow one shot affair.

Roundabout @ Summerhall

12:00 – 13:10

15

61.   

Chaplin (***)  An old Chaplin in wheel chair watches his younger version reenact significant events from his childhood until he was exiled from the USA.  Though there were interesting facts revealed, and the clips from his movies were fun, there was nothing exceptional here, except overload background music.  It was a good, solid biographical play about a famous person.

Pleasance Courtyard

12:20 – 13:30

4

62.   

Rhys James: Begins (***)  This 23-year old has a knack for good, fairly clean, jokes and rap.  He wisely chooses subjects with which he is quite familiar—his youthful looks and dating.  I liked his opening video that purported to show a PR firm trying to package him by associating him with Harry Potter.

Pleasance Courtyard

16:45 – 17:45

4

63.   

The Most Serious Ailments of St. Krank’s (***)  At the turn of the 20th century, a young doctor arrives at the St. Krankenspiegel Hospital in Great Yarmouth to prove himself under the tutelage of a great doctor.  Whether in the hospital or on the beach, this gentle farce works well throughout, and especially benefits from excellent singing voices.  The lead character has just the right mix of enthusiasm and self-doubt.

Bedlam Theatre

15:00 – 16:00

6

64.   

Happy (***)  While her virtually unseen boyfriend spends all of his time in the bathroom, Cat tries to find happiness.  Even two days later, there is nothing memorable about this play.

Pleasance Dome

11:40 – 12:40

16

65.   

The Trial of Jane Fonda (***)  Anne Archer, as Jane Fonda in 1988, meets with six Vietnam vets to clear the air about her visit to Hanoi in 1972.  The video footage from the trip and the six veteran’s deeply held repugnance all fit together well.  On the other hand, Archer’s wooden portrayal of Fonda lacked energy and conviction.

Assembly Rooms

16:05 – 17:25

14

66.   

Lorraine & Alan (***)  A socially inept marine biologist tries to make a life with seal that was transformed into woman.  This is a nice play as she becomes acquainted with human ways, and then must endure a life away from her beloved sea.  It is a little dissatisfying that neither demonstrate much real personal growth.

Pleasance Dome

13:30 – 14:30

7

67.   

The Horror!  The Horror! – The Final Curtain (***)  In the time of silent films, a music hall owner still presents the acts from the bygone era.  This is a good natured homage that is fun because it doesn’t take itself too seriously when presenting song and dance acts, as well as a magician and a spiritualist.  As the title indicates, there is a darker, macabre side to the story that doesn’t quite work as well.

Bedlam Theatre

19:45 – 20:55

6

68.   

Yellow Fever (***)  A painter obsessed with the Vincent Van Gogh and his model must deal with his focus on the color yellow.  While I found it easy to accept painter character as a neurotic, her reason for staying was never clear to me.  The scene with a “severed” ear fit him perfectly, and finally made her something more than caricature.

Venue 13

16:45 – 17:45

9

69.   

Shrew (***)  A young woman rails against the mistreatment of Kate by Shakespeare in “Taming of the Shrew” by reading excerpts and analyzing her position.  In a nice twist, with her passion and biting tongue, she is Kate arguing about Kate.  Even though her passion had her throw books of the play with such abandon that she hit an audience member with one, her argument was clear enough that it made me reassess just how inappropriate Kate’s transformation was.

C cubed

20:30 – 21:20

17

70.   

Chef (***)  A woman who is the chef in her prison tells of her life, and her love of food.  She mixes tales of her father’s cruelty and glimpses at the lives of prison kitchen workers with recipes and paeans to specific foods.  I found the scene with the knife confusing.

Underbelly

18:10 – 19:10

9

71.   

The Big Bite-Size Breakfast Show (Menu One) (***)  This menu has six short plays, and is the weakest of the menus.  The one exception was the humorous story of how the parents of a longtime lesbian feel betrayed when she decides that she is straight and is engaged.  At the other end of the scale was “The Great War,” which was decidedly unfunny as it brought happy-talk news to coverage of the carnage of World War I.

Pleasance Dome

10:30 – 11:30

11

72.   

Horizontal Collaboration (***)  Four actors sit at a table and read a script for the first time in which they sit as an international panel of lawyers reading the evidence for the trial of the wife of an African rebel leader for his murder.  The plot takes many twists and turns as we hear of her testimony as well as that of her servant.  The story is quite interesting, but the gimmick of new actors each day adds nothing to the play, and only highlights that this is just an audio book presented live.

Traverse Theatre

varies

9

73.   

Travesti (***). Six men speak the verbatim interviews of women asked about their experiences with mistreatment in various settings.   I certainly learned some new things, such as how all had had to deal with men grabbing  their bums in bars.  On the other, it seems that all the women were in their twenties, and I would have preferred a more varied sample.

Pleasance Dome

15:50 – 14:50

7

74.   

The Duck Pond (***)  This is a retelling of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake with the princess swan becoming a duck that becomes a young man to whom the Prince is quite attracted.  Everything is here—the Prince is proper and naïve and even does some ballet in toe shoes (which I held in a present box for much of the show), the wizard is villainous, the wizard’s daughter is quite an attractive dancer, and a little music box even plays the theme.  I suppose if I loved “Swan Lake,” then I would have appreciated it more like the rest of the audience.

Bedlam Theatre

18:00 – 19:10

6

75.   

Lynn Ruth Miller: Not Dead Yet (***)  The octogenarian comedienne provides humorous anecdotes and ditties from throughout her life.  This is not so much a comedy routine, as a light look at a long, diverse life from teaching swimming even though she cannot swim to recently mailing valentines to every prospective l mate.  I even had the opportunity to have a short dance with her.

C Nova

18:05 -19:05

4

76.   

The Exchange (****)  A retired sheep shearer and a retired line rider spend their days as the only customers of a barman in a tiny, remote Australian town.  The utter repetitiveness of their arguments about who should shout (buy) the next drink proved a charming symbol of their deep dependency and friendship.  I am not sure if it was because I’ve spent three months touring Australia or my decades long friendships, but the rest of young audience just did not get the play.

ZOO Southside

16:15 – 17:30

10

77.   

Barge Baby (***)  A young woman returns to her family’s home, a barge, to have her baby.  This is a likeable comedy with a loving family composed of a stoner father, hard working mother, and druggy sister, and straight husband.  Everyone gets their chance here, but the undercurrent of discontent between the self-indulgent father and the undervalued mother keeps the story from drifting too far afield.

C Nova

21:25 – 22:25

8

78.   

Tender Napalm (***)  A pair of lovers on a deserted island alternate between passionate embraces, and verbal fantasies of violent acts.  The fantasies range from UFO abductions to the woman asserting that she is the daughter of Poseidon as she grows innumerable tentacles.  There is certainly commitment to the scene, but I couldn’t figure out their motivation.

C nova

16:50 – 18:20

17

79.   

I Killed Rasputin (***)  After World War II, a journalist visits a Russian count who wrote a book about how he and others repeatedly tried to kill Rasputin, the monk who held inordinate sway in the Czar’s court.  This piece was just to surreal for me, with the count look an alien from Dr. Who.  I think the best part was the puppet dog.

Assembly George Square

15:35 – 16.55

12

80.   

Crazy Glue (***) A couple portray their romantic life in the style of a 1940s cartoon with a can of Crazy Glue often being an integral part of the action..  They referenced many idioms of that time including the huge rolling tongue of a wolf, squeaking sounds of clean glass, and the external loving hearts.  Their approach was interesting for quite a while, but could not sustain the show for its full hour.

Assembly Roxy

15:05 – 16:05

5

81.   

Song Noir – The Director’s Cut (***)  With a backdrop of a video of black and white images in the style of film noir, and an accompanist on electric guitar and keyboard, a chanteuse sings eerie ballads of the style.  Add her flair for overdramatic movements, and you could have a perfect evocation of the period.  However, the “background” music from the video was so loud that it drowned out her voice so that most of her lyrics were unintelligible.

Summerhall

23:35 – 22:35

16

82.   

The Hive (***)  In a post-war future, to avoid the poisonous atmosphere and the possibility of interpersonal violence, 100,000 people live underground in individual small cubicles, and communicating only through video screens.  As an inhabitant started to challenge the system, I found that my sense of science fiction coherence was constantly being challenged as the created world was just too full of contradictions and inconsistencies.  However, I was struck with how well the painting of the set made it seemed like it had all been made of tarnished metal.

Pleasance Dome

12:10 – 13:10

7

83.   

Traverse Breakfast Plays: Mother Ease (***)  A volunteer arrives at a single mother’s council flat to help her with rearing her baby.  As the focus of the story moves back and forth between the women’s pasts, the mother’s resolve becomes the more interesting tale.  The volunteer’s final confession comes more as exposition than life.

Traverse Theatre

9:00 – 9:45

16

84.   

The Interview (***)  An American man wakes up tied to a chair in an undisclosed bunker with four American interrogators trying to get him to admit to something without telling him what they want him to admit to.  Initially the scene seems to be a simple example of bad, torturing cop, and good, ethical cop, but his sincere desperation becomes obvious futility that slowly morphs into an overt polemic on torture and guns.  With the addition of the devil and the final scene the show loses any sense of gravitas.

Underbelly

18:00 – 18:55

5

85.   

Mark Ravenhill:  Product (***)  This one woman show has an editor pitching the starring role in an action movie to a famous actress.  As her proposed role becomes more extreme the phantom actress becomes less interested in the part, and so did I.  Since her love for the terrorist was never justified, the film’s character seemed to have Stockholm Syndrome without being kidnapped.

Assembly Hall

14:45 – 15:45

13

86.   

Zelda- The Last Flapper by William Luce (***)  When her asylum psychiatrist is called away, a schizophrenic Zelda Fitzgerald takes the hour to recount her life.  The Romanian actress blends chaos, and autobiographical tales to create a life of love, self-realization, and excess.  The big drawback it that the side-titles required me to constantly look away and lose her performance, particularly when the titles had beautiful distracting poetic phrases.

Hill Street Solo Theatre

15:00 – 16:00

3

87.   

Blind Hamlet (***)  With no actors, and no director, the audience listens to the playwright’s directions from an amplified iPod on the stage.  Though I was one of the seven people invited on stage to play a game of “murder” with two murderers among us, the whole play seemed like a giant gimmick.  For me, the relation to Hamlet was tenuous at best, and more a title designed to draw an audience.

Assembly Roxy

14:50 – 15:55

9

88.   

Keeping Abreast (***)  Three women and a man sit in chairs and read stories of women’s experiences with breast cancer with the focus on education.  Though a few of excerpts were aimed at caregivers, the bulk spoke to the victims, and women in general in a plea to examine themselves regularly.  I sat next to such a mother whose daughter had accidently chosen this play, and admired her resolve to remain to avoid hurting her daughter.

Assembly George Square

19:50 – 20:50

7

89.   

Split Decision  (***)  A young fellow counsels an overbearing wife with a drunk for a husband.  I like the portrayal of the woman as a strong strident person with just a hint of remorse and heart.  The frequent rhyming, particularly of the husband, was the main drawback to the play.

Assembly Rooms

13:30 – 14:30

3

90.   

Sex, With Benefits (***)  A family oriented gay man visits a wealthy man with whom he has been texting for three years.  Both men clearly evince their different views on family and sex, and the conflict is the heart of the play, but their back stories seem shallow.  The unrequested re-decorating with a stapler seemed oddly aggressive and invasive in such a situation.

Sweet

20:25 – 21:25

9

91.   

Don’t Let Go (***)  A middle manager at a coffee factory is jolted out of his bland life by a red balloon.  While the plot is simple and the acting good, many of the scenes of this devised piece make sense only to the actors.  The highlight for me was when then much put upon secretary breaks loose and expresses her exuberance.

Bedlam Theatre

13:30 – 14:30

6

92.   

Show 6 (***)  In the future, a young man returns to his small, secure, privileged enclave, only to find that he must deal with the whispered words of man he hits and leave while driving.  This is a very stylized piece with the characters speaking with significant nouns often omitted from their speech.  The effort to break people out of a prison is so surreal that the whole play loses any impact.

Roundabout @ Summerhall

15:50 – 16:50

11

93.   

St. Joan (***)  Three actresses play Joan of Arc.  The only memorable scene is the gruesome description of Joan burning on a huge pier.  Despite the action of the play, it failed to keep my interest.

Bedlam Theatre

16:30 – 17:30

13

94.   

Night Bus (***)  A pair of actresses perform a variety of skits about night busses.  The vignettes vary from comedic to musical to drama.  The first, with an old woman pestering the other about the location of a particular red bus was the most memorable.

Pleasance Courtyard

13:00 – 14:00

12

95.   

How to Disappear Completely  (***)  A lighting designer combines narrating a film he made about his mother dying of cancer, with a few stories from his own life.  While the loss of a moother is always touching to the child, this piece seems to be too self centered, with little thought for his audience.  I did like his explanations and demonstrations of the effects of the different types of lighting.

Underbelly

19:30 – 20:30

4

96.   

The Carousel (**)  This one-woman show has three generations of women talking about their interactions and lives in rural Canada.  I knew from the first minute that this play was going to be trouble for me when the actress switched between two of the women with no visual cues.  What made deciphering the speakers even harder was that the youngest was never even given a name!

Traverse Theatre

18:30 – 19:45

14

97.   

SmallWar (**) A live actor as well as multiple images of the same actor on a huge projected screen recites the words of non-leaders of World War I.  While the words were touching, his presentation of those words was so flat that I could not stay awake.  There was virtually no movement during the whole show.

Traverse

varies

13

98.   

Neverland (**)  Nine characters imagine their version of a wonderland like Peter Pan’s Never Never Land.  The stories held little interest for me, and I began to count how many were left about half way through.  On the other hand, their chorus work almost made the play worth it.

theSpace @ Venue 45

21:35 – 22:25

11

99.   

The Dogs of War (**)  Using excerpts from Shakespeare and new text, this UC Davis troupe explores the effects of war.  The play does not work because there are too many characters and not enough plot to connect them into a cohesive whole.  Though there is the occasional lyricism of Shakespeare, the prose is so disjoint that the jumble obscures the poetry. 

Assembly George Square

11:45 – 13:15

8

100.                       

Bloody Trams (**)  Two actors and a piano player relay verbatim comments by Edinburghians about the new trams.  Having been coming to the Fringe for the past seven years, I know of some of the troubles of the trams, but I think this piece is really designed with the locals in mind.  I was disappointed that the music and lyrics of the songs had little relation; it seemed like this show would have been perfect for ditties.

Traverse Theatre

23:00 – 0:00

8

101.                       

Donald Robertson is Not a Stand-Up Comedian (**)  A comedian tells a story of trying to teach a bullied school boy how to use jokes to assert control of his life.  Since his own jokes were quite weak, this was an example of the blind leading the blind, and failed miserably.  The only clever bit was the appearance of the boy at the end doing a short stand-up routine.

Traverse Theatre

varies

13

102.                       

Sheeps: Wembley Previews (**)  The premise here is that a three man sketch troop use the Fringe as a tune-up for an appearance as an opening act at Wembley by repeatedly reworking their first sketch.  From the beginning they admit that the sketch is weak at best, and their variations do nothing to improve it.  While the rest of the audience loved it, for me, after watching Richard Herring be funny for a solid hour, this absurdist running gag of unfunny left me cold.

Bedlam Theatre

21:15 – 22:15

6

103.                       

Nougat for Kings (**)  The premise of this farce is to present a TV action series set in the swashbuckler era with the stock characters of modern tongue-in-cheek TV series.  They are all here, including the fit leading man, an evil brother, a lecherous power authority, an martial arts expert woman, and the attractive though naïve damsel.  As with most farces here, the director fell into the trap that louder and faster equates to funnier, when it often just obscures humor with its chaos.

Underbelly

16:40 – 17:40

5

104.                       

Puzzle the Puzzle (**)  This slow Chinese piece has a reticent English speaking fairy help inspire a mute poet by moving around small models in his study.  I am sorry to say that I that have not learned to appreciate this style of production.

C Nova

22:55 – 0:00

3

105.                       

The Flood (*)  A World War I soldier repeatedly goes over the top followed by a nurse triaging the casualties by dividing pieces of meat into three buckets: the dead, the blighty, and those stitched back together and sent back to the front.  The style of both the repetitive action and constantly repeated phrases are identical to the play “Anna” by the same company last year, and I find such lack of creativity dishonest and repugnant.  It was all the worse because the nurse did have some evocative things to say if not for the playwright’s slavish adherence to last year’s phrasings.

Summerhall

18:30 – 19:25

16

 

 

I am a 61-year old Computer Science lecturer from the University of California in Davis who thinks even a bad play is better than no play at all.  Besides teaching, I work as a house painter / handyman to earn the extra money to pay for my travels.  I have been to the Fringe ten times before.  Eleven years ago, after two weeks touring France, my wife and I spent nine days of our honeymoon at the Fringe.  We shared 45 plays, and I attended ten other events besides.  In 2005, I fulfilled a dream of seeing an entire Fringe Festival.  Since then, I have been here for the whole Fringe every year except 2007.  I have learned to devote most days to only one venue to maximize the number of performances I can see.  I expect this year to be similar to last—many performances, and many new friends.

 

After attending more than 1000 performances, I have a much better idea of my biases and prejudices in the role of a critic.  To limit my analyzing shows during their performances as much as possible, I have intentionally avoided any training in criticism and the dramatic arts, both formal and informal.  I find that I prefer fact to fiction, innovation to repetition, coherence to creativity, the concrete to the symbolic, and cleverness to depth.  I realize that many of these are antithetical to the spirit of the Fringe, but I cannot deny my nature.  In particular, I just do not like shows that push the bounds of creativity beyond my ability to make sense of them.  Because I choose to fill time slots with whatever is available, I still expose myself to such shows, and do not mind.  However, I do feel a little guilty giving a low rating to a show on which a company has worked so hard, and with such commitment.  Nevertheless, I envision that that is my role—to accurately report my enjoyment so that others may better use my ratings.  In all but a very few cases, I admire the effort of each company, and wish them well.

 

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