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Festival Review: Traverse Two 2017

Michael Cox reviews Jess and Joe Forever (***), Lilith--The Jungle Girl (***) and Nassim (****).

Another Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and another run of 70-minute plays to be found in the Traverse Two space.

First up is Jess and Joe Forever, a lovely little play-within-a-play that sees its two protagonists re-enact moments from their life. The play is set in Norfolk—Joe is a local working class kid; Jess spends some of her holidays in the region. They strike up a friendship that spans several years.

In truth, Zoe Cooper’s script is perfectly serviceable. The play is well structured and zips along at a fun pace. There are moments of pathos and laughter, and while most of the plot turns are easy to see there are some nice flourishes, particularly near the end. Director Derek Bond keeps the action fluid and allows everything to unfold in a playful light.

But the success of the production is down to its two leads: Nicola Coughlan and Rhys Isaac-Jones are both superb as Jess and Joe. They not only have a mischievous energy about them that makes their portrayal of youth come across as honest, but they have a wonderful chemistry with each other. It is for them, more than the play itself, that makes this worthwhile.

How to describe Lilith: The Jungle Girl? While the Fringe and Traverse programmes have adequate plot descriptions, it really is a piece that should be experienced with as little knowledge of what you’re about to see as possible.

Because at its heart, what the production ends up being is a rather fun roller coaster through the absurd. How serious are we supposed to take this? After all, the action is set in a Dutch hospital in 1861 but is rife with modern references. Do the characters know they’re on stage before an audience? Sometimes, it seems like they do.

But to spend time questioning the plot or the characters would be a denial of the ridiculous pleasures that the production offers in the moment. All three performers—Ash Flanders, Candy Bowers and Genevieve Giuffre—are wonderful to watch: cheeky yet fully committed to what they have to do. They are a terrific ensemble and embrace the absurdness of the whole production, created by Flanders and Declan Greene—think The Mighty Boosh does The Elephant Man via My Fair Lady, and you’re on the right track as to what lies in store.

Does it all work in the end? Well, more so than not. There are moments that seem a little much or go on too long. But there are other moments that are bang-on hilarious and, on occasion, almost touching, resulting in a production that is worth a gander for those brave enough to venture a journey through the jungle of the unknown.

Also a trek into the unknown is Nassim. By its very nature, the point of Nassim Soleimanpour’s latest is to go into the theatre knowing nothing, and for that I will play fair and reveal very little.

Those who have experienced any of his other work, including BLANK and White Rabbit Red Rabbit, will not only have a slight advantage as to what to expect but will also have a little more of an emotional resonance with what unfolds.

But the set up is similar: a performer who has had no rehearsal and has not read the script is brought on stage and is told to open an envelop (or a box, as it is in Traverse Two). From there, performer and audience are taken on a journey, this one dealing with communication. Phil Burgers was the performer for the showing I saw (a different person will be brought on stage for each performance), and he proved to be a personable performer who served the piece well.

While it also looks at culture and has political undercurrents, this piece is far more focused on the emotional, and while the whole production is a rewarding experience from start to finish, the end packs one of the most potent punches I’ve experienced in some time. Not to be missed.

All three perform at the Traverse Theatre until August 27. Check the Traverse website or programme as performance times vary daily. No performances on Mondays.

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