(Le) Pain ****
Assembly Roxy (Venue139)
The fact that ‘pain’ means ‘bread’ in French is a bit of a gift for Jean-Daniel Broussé. Growing up in the South of France, parental expectation weighed heavily on his shoulders. Should he become the fourth generation of bakers to run Patisserie Broussé or follow his heart and become a performer? Evidently, he chose the latter – and bread’s loss is our gain. Although during (Le) Pain, we get the best of both worlds.
On a stage busy with bags of flour, silver tables, shiny bowls and a small oven, Broussé describes the anguish of choosing one life over another. He also tells us about a very different kind of pain that helps him make a decision, but no spoilers here. As he chats, flour and water is poured, mixed and kneaded by his expert hand, and as it’s left to rise, he demonstrates his other skills, as a dancer, circus artist and musician. Costume changes take him from aprons to sequins, but a winning smile is worn throughout.
When he’s not playing music, the humour comes thick and fast, adding another string to Broussé’s already talented bow. But there’s also a charming sentimentality here, as we watch video footage of his parents sharing their own thoughts about the highs and lows of bakery life. The conversation with this mum, in particular leads to a hilarious moment of audience participation that we all get behind with gusto.
By the end, a flour-strewn stage lies before us, Broussé’s touching and funny tale has been told, and air is filled with the smell of freshly baked French sticks. Which, like his life story, he is more than willing to share. Kelly Apter
Until 28 August
With the Devil’s Assistance ****
Scottish Storytelling Centre (Venue 30)
Shona Cowie’s storytelling theatre piece begins in conventional fashion, as she welcomes the audience with a fourth wall-breaking tutorial on the disappearance of the British high street. Who wants to describe their local high street, she wonders? What’s it like? Why do they think it’s changed, inevitably for the worse? One person gave the sadly very relevant example of Kirkcaldy; another was from South Queensferry, which seems to be doing okay.
Cowie’s local high street is Ayr, and to tell us the story of how it is now, she tells us how it was then, back in the seventeenth century, with the true story of Maggie Osborne. Maggie kept a building on the High Street in Ayr, a local landmark known as Maggie Osborne’s House, which served as public house and trading post for the many sailors and merchants who passed through Ayr when it was one of Scotland’s most important seaports. Now it’s a branch of Marks and Spencer.
It also tells of one family who had apparently crossed Maggie, and who were all killed – aside from one son away at sea – when an avalanche hit their house in the Carrick Hills. A successful, self-made businesswoman, and one whose trade brought life and prosperity to the area, Maggie also inspired suspicion among the townsfolk, particularly those men who may have harboured a jealousy of her success. That she was branded a witch seems somehow sadly inevitable.
With atmospheric and cleverly integrated live music from Neil Sutcliffe, Cowie’s storytelling is an entertaining thrill. She moves from the conversational to the comic to the otherworldly with ease, her tone of voice and physicality bringing to life a well-sculpted story. More than that, the thematic threads she’s weaving with tie something even more intriguing and relevant than the sum of its parts together, a purposeful examination of feminism, patriarchy and capitalism then and now. David Pollock
Until 28 August (not 16, 17, 19, 21, 25, 27)
The Azure Sky in Oz – Special ***
PBH's Free Fringe @ The Street (Venue 239)
This is actually one of two shows playing under the umbrella title, The Azure Sky in Oz, that are performed on alternating days at this venue. Both are written and directed by the playwright William Leavengood and performed by the American actress Amanda Ladd. Both shows are true stories about women whose lives are changed when they encounter the world of the differently-abled, and Special follows Mary Tilford, a warm-hearted Special Education teacher and her attempts to stage a production of The Wizard of Oz with her intellectually disabled high school students.
There's a level of professionalism to Ladd’s performance here that’s rare on the Free Fringe. Her voice has the clarity of a bell and her folksy mannerisms and expressions feel authentic - you can almost tell that Ladd is a veteran of Disney Cruise lines. Tilford’s story is genuinely inspirational but Leavengood’s script wisely gives us time to get to know Mary’s character, background and insecurities before focusing on her work with her students.
On this evidence Ladd’s other show, Yellow, the story of California artist Michelle Feulner-Castro’s career after the birth of her profoundly autistic son, should be worth checking out too. Rory Ford
Until 28 August
Second Summer of Love ***
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)
The rave explosion of the late 1980s sold itself as challenging the norms of society through its spirit of peace and inclusivity towards all involved. On the inside, this broke barriers of race, gender, sexuality and, as writer and performer Emmy Happisburgh’s new play for the Pants On Fire company demonstrates, class too.
Happisburgh is posh former public schoolgirl Louise, whose currently quiet married life in Guildford is interrupted only by a weekly work-out at the ‘ravercise’ club she goes to and her sulky 13-year-old daughter’s demand she help with social studies homework. The subject is drugs, and after a chance meeting with her chiselled ex-boyfriend in the supermarket, Louise’s onrushing mid-life crisis sends this respectable Surrey teacher’s mind rushing back to the days she was a pill-popping glowstick raver around the fields and abandoned buildings of the Home Counties.
What begins with the unpromising tone of a daytime Radio 4 comedy hits its surprisingly authentic stride when Happisburgh gets into the flashback sequences, the sweatbox of a room lending power to her energetic glowstick dancing and the solo-performed cast of Louise’s old friends she gives convincing voice to.
The music, settings and language used all clearly come from a place of experience, and if Happisburgh’s story says not much more than keeping in touch with your younger self is a good thing, the telling of it is some rush. David Pollock
Until 29 August
Helter Skelter **
Assembly George Square (Venue 8)
Helter Skelter, a new play written and directed by Mike Narouei and staged by his company Veto Productions, follows Susan, a young American in the late 1960s who flees her childhood home then falls in with Charles Manson’s cult. It is, of course, based on real events: Susan is Susan Atkins, AKA Sexy Sadie, one of the Manson murderers.
There is an interesting narrative somewhere here, but Narouei doesn’t find it. His script tries to squeeze too much in, his staging is too static, and, despite some decent performances, Helter Skelter – like so much art before it – merely piggybacks on the Manson mythology for its power. Fergus Morgan
Until 29 August