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Festival Review: Pan Breid ****

Scott Purvis reviews a 'tight, fast-paced play' filled with hilarious characters.

The Fringe can be the most inclusive place in the universe. Want to see a gay men's choir sing songs about Joan Rivers' window cleaner? It's on at venue 45. Oh, you'd rather see a tap-dancing opera adaptation of Antigone? It's in the pub opposite the castle, mate...

But what isn't often as represented in this carnival of culture is something which feels a little more local. A little more Lanarkshire. Enter Pan Breid, a fantastic debut production by the Central Belters. This tight, fast-paced play is something of a collection of hilarious character sketches, all wrapped in a blue carry-oot bag of earthy, dark, recognisably Scottish humour.

Set in a cemetery overgrown with Wishaw wit, Keighley Bell's funny forty-five minute comedy is an autopsy of life and death in the former industrial heartland of Scotland. Here, deceptively kind-looking old women perch on benches, bitching about the cost of carrier bags as death lurks, ready to butter their scones with his scythe; there, young boys patch school and collect sponsorship for music careers that are bound to hit a bum-note. And yet they somehow smile through the bleakness.

What makes this so enjoyable is a real authenticity in the performances - the cast often find gold amongst the script's gallows humour and deliver it like a guy in the pub that works with your dad. Phoebe Connolly and Jade McDonald are both adorable and funny as old dears Kay and Olive, their comic delivery sharp as a slice of week old Mother's Pride. The character with which this brilliant double-act ruminate gives the piece a true Scottish flavour and banter, their spry dialogue chewing over the lost sayings of your granny like an old Irn-Bru bar.

Louise Scott, too, is hilarious as Pauline, a flirtatious lush who wears her Asda uniform like a cocktail dress - her expressive, stretchy facial expressions bring a pleasing slapstick humour to the graveside, stopping the piece from falling into an open grave of morbidity during its sadder moments. Her scenes with Boabie, a fly-guy ned who has a little of what makes Lewis Capaldi so loveable, are a highlight, an unabashed seduction of predator meeting prey, a cougar pursuing a terrified boy with the stench of Cointreau and lemonade on her lips.

With a little more development of the pathos intrinsic to the ending, this could be a loaf of pan breid which could get a piece at the door of any small theatre in the central belt. It is an instantly endearing show which stands somewhere between The Steamie and Still Game in the butcher queue - most of its characters are instantly loveable and feel like sitcom creations that you've known and loved for years.

Although its local references and ideas might not offer much to international audiences, anyone who has had a bowl of their granny's lentil soup will leave the theatre feeling warmed and satisfied.

Runs at The Space on the Mile from August 2-10 at 1750.

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