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Festival Reviews: Pleasance & Assembly

Michael Cox reviews Early Doors, NewsRevue and 24 Hours with Mary Lynn Rajskub.

Early Doors ***

Paddy and Beth have inherited the family pub. The regulars still come, including merry prankster Bunny and quizmaster Steve, and the staff are still on hand. But things are not quite right between brother and sister.

That's about as much plot as one gets from the production, set in the actual Jinglin’ Geordie Pub, located on Fleshmarket Close. Being in a pub certainly adds to the potency of the piece, but it by no means over-rides any of the weaknesses. The characters are shallow cliches who are easily forgotten before they've completely stepped backstage, and any promise of interesting conflict gets carelessly thrown away.

Still, the company perform with full gusto, and it is good fun. It just fades from memory quite quickly. It is, however, a good piece to see, especially by those who have not experienced site-specific work before.

NewsRevue ****

A cheeky blend of stand-up, musical parody and political satire, NewsRevue is solid fun for any political junky out there.

Don't like the current act? Don't worry—the scene will soon change, as most scenes don't last longer than 90 seconds. Quick fire jokes and sarcastic voice-overs are the order of the day here. The company—four actors and a pianist—keep the pace frantic and constant. Most comedic sketch shows are able to begin and end strong, but you know you're in good hands when the 12th is as good as the first.

Some of the targets are too easy, particularly the American ribbing (Trump and guns—ground many have covered better). But when the company go for more British targets, their delivery is much sharper. Very good fun from start to finish.

24 Hours with Mary Lynn Rajskub ****

It's an easy trap for audiences to fall into: an actor from a well-known film or TV programme comes to town, and you go expecting to see someone familiar. So let's begin with what should be blatantly obvious: Rajskub is NOT Chloe from TV’s 24; she has a completely different personality.

The first part of her show is a Hollywood confessional, telling stories of what it was like on set and going to an awards show. But Rajskub started life as a comedian, and when the show comes to an end she decides to go back onto the stand-up circuit.

This is where the production changes gear, for Rajskub takes the show from stand-up into existential life-crisis, using a moment from her tour when she was alone and reflecting on what it means to be a wife, a mother and a performer.

Rajskub has excellent stage presence. She is not the kooky nerd she played in 24 but is a personable presence: funny yet flawed. This makes her enduring and adds much more weight to her performance.

More confessional that a ‘rat-it-tat’ collection of jokes, Rajskub turns in a performance that is wonderfully humane. Yes, it's funny, but it also has emotional resonance and insight in married life. Great stuff, all round.

Early Doors and NewsRevue are part of the Pleasance programme, and 24 Hours with Mary Lynn Rajskub is part of the Assembly programme. Check websites for further details.

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