C Venue, run ended
Assembly Rooms, 4pm, 5pm and 6pm
Traverse: Drill Hall, times vary
THE Smile Off Your Face by Belgian company Onroerend Goed is the best show I've tasted, felt, smelt and heard on this year's Fringe. If I hadn't been blindfolded, it might also have been the best show I saw. Performed to an audience of one - and, sadly, ending its run yesterday - the show is an intense, intimate and erotic experience that packs a bigger sensory punch in its 20 minutes than most productions manage in an hour.
It starts as you are led down the steps and asked to sit in a wheelchair, below. Your hands are tied, you are blindfolded and, from then on, you are entirely in the unseen company's hands (often literally). Pushed into an unknown space, you lose all sense of orientation as fingers pass through your hair and the heat of a flame tickles your chin. You're helped out of the chair and pushed back on to a bed where a woman whispers questions - "What makes you happy?" "When did you last cry?" - that affect you as deeply as any conventional drama.
Your senses become highly attuned (has chocolate ever tasted as good as when they pop it unexpectedly into your mouth?) and it is a tremendous coup de theatre when momentarily your blindfold comes off and you see that the woman who has just been flirting with you is dressed like a renaissance pope. It's as if they're teaching you to use your eyes for the first time. When the blindfold comes off again, you're faced by a wall of Polaroid photos, including one of yourself. An actor positions himself in front of you, asks you to smile and, mesmerisingly, forces a tear to well up and roll down his cheek. That's when the wheelchair rolls back, enabling you to see the subsequent audience members going on their own sensory journey.
It's the kind of only-on-the-Fringe experience that exploits theatre's capacity to connect to an audience with an intimacy impossible in film and TV. That's why there has been a buzz around two shows - The Container by Nimble Fish and The Psychic Detective by Benchtours - performed in converted lorries to audiences no bigger than 20. Both, however, show that the novelty of a new setting is not enough on their own. The play has to work as well.
The Container (Udderbelly's Pasture, 3pm and 7pm,) starts tremendously as we, like the illegal immigrants it describes, are plunged into darkness and subjected to the fearful throb of the lorry's engine. There's a visceral sense of entrapment as the actors emerge with their torches from inside packing cases but, after that, Clare Bayley's play doesn't have anywhere to go and the narrative is as boxed in as the refugees.
At least it has an air of topicality. The Psychic Detective (Udderbelly's Pasture, 2.30pm and 5pm, HHHHH) has nothing to say. It plays all its cards in the first 10 minutes - a clever evocation of film noir, using blinds and high-contrast lighting - and then is left spinning out its inconsequential story of a drowning man who must get to the end of his dream if he is to survive. It quickly wears thin.
Fiona Evans' Scarborough is more successful. Director Deborah Bruce of Northern Firebrand sets this story of a dirty weekend between a teacher and her 15-year-old pupil in a specially constructed bedroom near the information desk of the Assembly Rooms. The writing and acting are sharp, and our presence in the bedroom brings us tangibly into their private world.
Adrian Howells shares his private world in the intimacy of his living room in An Audience With Adrienne (Traverse: Medical School, 7pm,), a sharing, caring drag performance in which his alter ego, Adrienne, organises competitive sandcastle building while telling true-life stories of sexual awakening. It's funny and touching and you're likely to hear tales from your fellow audience members that you would never normally hear.
Back on a big scale, Vanishing Point's Subway is a highly enjoyable show powered by a band of musicians from Kosovo. A dystopian tale of a Leith 10 years from now when the gap between the haves and have nots is fomenting a revolution, it features superb performances by Sandy Greirson and Rosalind Sydney, in a highly unusual theatrical concoction. .
All run until August 26, except The Smile Off Your Face