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Across the Festival: August 1--Traverse

Michael Cox reviews Men in the Cities, Spoiling, Huff, The Carousel and Donald Robertson is not a Stand Up Comedian.

It’s the first day of Fringe Festival 2014, and as per tradition it kicks off for me at the Traverse’s smaller stage. And as usual, the programme on offer is eclectic.

There are some wonderful, electric moments of beauty to be found within Chris Goode’s Men in the Cities (***). It’s just a shame the whole 80-minute run isn’t consistently at such a level.

Goode takes us into the minds of a collection of male characters, all of whom differ in age, sexual orientation and views on life, resulting in an interesting look at what masculinity means. Some stories are more compelling than others, though each character does get at least one moment to shine.

Men has a wonderfully committed performance by Goode himself, who has written some moving passages full of rich poetry that he delivers with aplomb, and there are three or four moments within that are absolutely spellbinding. However, as a whole the show doesn’t quite come together, with some characters coming across as short-changed, and on a whole the production feels as much as a missed opportunity in looking at these lives as it is successful in looking at others, resulting in a production that can best be described as frustratingly adequate.

Political drama can be tricky: take a side and you alienate half the audience; take a broad approach and you risk boring everyone. Spoiling (****) is set in a near future, post a successful referendum for Scotland. The Party (unnamed, but the identity is all but certain) has sent Mark to make sure Fiona, Scotland’s soon-to-be Foreign Minister and champion of the people, stays on script for the first post-referendum televised conference with Westminster, which is due to take place in an hour.

Written by John McCann, the play is an absolute winner, filled with political zingers and a contagious kinetic energy from start to finish. Perhaps the play does take sides, but the back-and-forth between actors Gabriel Quigley and Richard Clements is terrific fun to watch, no matter what side you fall on. And even though it has a short 50-minute running time, it manages to pack more wit and political satire than most full-length productions and films. Bravo!

Those unlucky enough to have missed Huff (*****) last year are in for a treat. Shona Reppe and Andy Manley’s promenade theatrical interpretation of the Three Little Pigs is one of the most delightful, creative productions I’ve seen in some time. There are many productions that are geared for children, but it takes a special production to make adults feel like children, a feat Huff accomplishes with a gleeful relish.

To describe any of the things audiences will encounter along their 20-minute journey would be cheating. The best I can say is this: be brave. Dare to open drawers and crawl on your knees in order to investigate, because there are wonderful little Easter eggs to be discovered, be it clever puns or creative flourishes carefully hidden throughout. Utterly wonderful.

The Carousel (****) is the second part in a trilogy written by Canadian playwright Jennifer Tremblay. The first part, The List, was performed during the last two Fringe festivals and garnered acclaim and awards—rightfully so. Previous knowledge of The List is unneeded here; The Carousel follows the same unnamed narrator and looks at how her relationships with different men and women have shaped her identity.

Performing with a ferocious tenacity is Maureen Beattie, who literally throws herself into the part for the whole 70-minute production. While The Carousel’s multi-weaving episodic nature might not be as compelling as The List’s simpler structure, Beattie is as good, perhaps even better, than she was in that. The way she jumps from character and time without skipping a beat or ever loosing concentration of who she is playing is nothing short of mesmerising. She is consistently outstanding in her performance of a flawed but compelling woman, and her performance echoes in the mind long after the curtain has come down.

Gary McNair might not give as memorable performance as Beattie in Donald Robertson is not a Stand Up Comedian (***), but he still manages to impress in this piece that he himself has written. Perhaps a better title would have been What is Stand-Up? for the majority of the piece is a deconstructive look at what a comedian must do when performing before a live audience.

In truth the piece is half stand-up and half play, and for the most part it works well. It does have three distinct beats, and though they do thread together the transitions aren’t quite as successful. Still, McNair is a very good performer who is engaging throughout, and though the piece is flawed, it does raise many laughs and ideas worth checking out.

Huff and Spoiling are part of this year’s Made in Scotland programme.

All productions perform at the Traverse until August 24 (dark Mondays). Check website or Fringe guide for specific times.

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