Edinburgh Festival Fringe reviews: BOLERO – EXTENDED | The Dan Daw Show | I just like you | a gay myth | Karen from Finance is Out of Office | The Intervention | Payday Party | A Wilde Life | Trouble on Six | Doll | Tales of Vomit, Trash and Broken Glass | The Lacehouse

It’s five stars for the show that remixes a Ravel classic into a cacophony of music and movement and four stars for Dan Daw’s BDSM voyage, leading a bumper round-up of musicals, theatre and dance at the Fringe. Reviews by Kelly Apter, David Pollock and Sally Stott

DANCE, PHYSICAL THEATRE & CIRCUS

BOLERO – EXTENDED *****

Dance Base (Venue 22) until 28 August

BOLERO – EXTENDED

For almost 100 years, the slow build of Ravel’s Bolero has enthralled audiences. The repetition, steady beat, key changes and chaotic climax are as exciting to listen to now as they were at the premiere in 1928. But in an age when deconstructing, reconstructing and reimagining classic works unearths hitherto unseen qualities, Bolero is the gift that keeps on giving.

In this unique joint production from Denmark and Lithuania, contemporary dance groups Granhøj Dans and Šeiko Dance Company have joined forces with Klaipėda Cello Octet to create a cacophony of music and movement. Putting even Ravel to shame, the slow build here is practically tectonic. The odd drawn-out note is played discordantly by a solo cellist for much of the first half while the dancers take centre stage one by one.

Dressed in white, a performer strolls into view and begins to express themselves. Two fellow dancers dressed in black have other ideas, however, and the joyful choreography is curtailed, the dancer folded up and packed into the back of a box. And so it goes on, with each dancer curbed and dispatched in the same way after giving us a brief, exuberant burst of their personality.

At which point the show takes a whole new direction. Large open-fronted boxes are wheeled onto the stage and expertly turned; a cellist on top, a dancer crouching inside. Each one is lined up perfectly, with no margin for error and not a step impeded or note dropped in the process. Earlier divisions forgotten, everyone is now dressed in a mix of black and white, like piano keys merged in harmony. And so the climax begins, with frenzied movement and frenetic bowing all beautifully lit from below, hurtling headlong towards one of the finest denouements I’ve ever seen. Kelly Apter

DANCE, PHYSICAL THEATRE & CIRCUS

The Dan Daw Show ****

Dance Base (Venue 22) until 28 August

“Remember, this is how I want you to see me,” says Dan Daw during this show’s friendly, and frequently hilarious, preamble. A slightly strange, seemingly innocuous comment which slowly starts to make sense. For this is Daw’s journey into pleasure and empowerment, where he can experience pain and degradation but on his terms, with a safe word, knowing he’s in complete control.

Daw self-describes as an “Australian, queer, crip artist” and his artistic projects focus on bringing disabled people into the spotlight. On stage he is very much master of his domain, although in life he says he rarely feels safe or relaxed. Able-bodied sidekick, Christopher Owen, is also on stage here so that “people who look like him can feel represented”. (This gets the best laugh of the night, and rightly so.)

Not everything Daw and Owen get up to during the 90 minutes will hit the spot with all viewers. Personally, I had to look away on a couple of occasions when the humiliation/brutality felt too much. But for the most part, the duo’s energetic BDSM antics are engaging, and the chat inbetween is by turns very, very funny and deeply moving. Seeing Daw take charge of his own body, and sexual desires, with such unbridled vigour feels like a triumphant felling of the taboo still surrounding sex and disability. And the absolute care that this production takes of its audience, from early entry to the auditorium to subtle warnings of loud lights and noises, indicates a thoughtfulness all shows would benefit from.

But the biggest gift of all, to Daw and to us, is his final wardrobe change. A costume so fabulous (no spoilers here) that it conveys strength and fragility, power and vulnerability all wrapped up in one glorious outfit. Kelly Apter

THEATRE

I just like you | a gay myth ***

Greenside @ Riddles Court (Venue 16) until 27 August

Two men enter the room and begin passionately kissing one another. This leads on to sex and a promise to see one another again, but it becomes clear one is more involved in their relationship than the other. They reach an uneasy agreement to be “friends with benefits”, to have no relationship beyond friendship and the purely sexual.

It’s unclear exactly which “gay myth” promised in the title the piece is exploring, but the suspicion is that it has something to do with monogamy. That the “world of hook-ups and casual sex” which the accompanying literature says the play inhabits isn’t the only space a gay relationship might inhabit, especially as it matures from fun into something more serious.

The pair’s relationship is followed through a succession of scenes over time, as they date, split, reunite, and the balance of affection shifts between them. Writer and director Zachary Wilcox’s play is a tender, mature relationship drama, with two involving and physically frank performances from Chandler James and Conor Mainwaring at its heart. These are reasons to recommend it, alongside the sense of honesty and realism with which it depicts a relationship between two men. David Pollock

THEATRE

Karen from Finance is Out of Office **

Underbelly, Bristo Square (Venue 302) until 29 August

Melbourne-based Karen – who works 80 hours weeks, makes all the boys coffee and has accumulated four months of holiday – has the potential to be a truly original corporate drag queen. With hair as big as her expressions, a friendship with Clippy the Microsoft Word paperclip, and flawless lip synching, she’s a sweet and classy star, who morphs, somewhat incongruously, into a sexual innuendo-wielding, booze-loving party girl in a way that feels more fuelled by familiar drag queen tropes than a natural development of her persona. Karen, you don’t have to be someone you’re not. We love you as you are. Sally Stott

THEATRE

The Intervention **

Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14) until 29 August

A man finds his missing former friend, post-lockdown, and discovers that he hasn’t, as everyone previously thought, killed himself. It’s an intriguing concept – with rolling, rattling, boisterous, macho banter from the two men – that unfortunately starts to go round in circles as the story runs out of places to go. The characters aren’t sufficiently engaging to sustain things on their own and while a twist ending injects a new burst of energy the straight-talking, brash and often crude conversation becomes tiring long before then, despite a potentially interesting commentary on toxic masculinity and effects of lockdown waiting to emerge. Sally Stott

THEATRE

Payday Party **

Pleasance Dome (Venue 23) until 27 August

“Who gets paid? You decide!” shouts Stuart Bowden, as, with a swish of his ponytail, he passes snarky comments on low wage, high inequality Britain through his dry Mancunian drawl. Referencing the Harlan Renaissance, the acts he introduces are an intriguing but uneven mix: standard rap and dance numbers blown away by scene stealing opera, concluding with quietly subversive poetry. Also including the performers’ real-life stories, from experiences of racial prejudice to the challenges of trying to find a good music teacher, it’s a show that admirably attempts to highlight unfair divisions but, with six very different acts, it would benefit from a more even tone and consistent quality. Sally Stott

MUSICALS & OPERA

A Wilde Life **

theSpace on the Mile (Venue 39) until 27 August

Four stars for the polished performances, excellent singing and dancing, and some exceptional cast members in this otherwise oddly conceived musical that sees Oscar Wilde visit a Cabaret-style bar in Paris. There he enlists a cackling chorus of locals armed with unsubtle innuendo and homophobic slurs, to deliver a high energy, melodramatic musical retelling of his life and loves. Accompanied by the fresh, thumping beat of live piano music, it’s a shame that the script isn’t more developed – particularly as Wilde is known for his wit which, despite a few quotes, gets lost in a love quadrangle which feels surprisingly traditional. Sally Stott

THEATRE

Trouble on Six **

Greenside @ Infirmary Street (Venue 236) until 27 August

With a one-person show which covers his own life story from the moment of his conception as a last-ditch attempt to save his parents’ already-broken marriage, Larry Jay Tish proves to be a warm and involved storyteller with a self-deprecating sense of humour. “Trouble on six” is the call his father would make when he was a bowling alley attendant, and the family’s machinery certainly became stuck when the elder Tish’s dealings got him in trouble with the law. It’s a nice, redemptive personal story, but in a Fringe full of them it doesn’t leap out. David Pollock

THEATRE

Doll **

theSpace on North Bridge (Venue 36) until 27 August

Doll starts off extremely well, with some great, authentic writing from Leah Head and compelling performances from the cast – including Head herself, as chipper, good humoured Liverpudlian Cassie who, proud of her Primark suits and never without a glass of prosecco, could easily have her own one-woman show, and Morgan Scriven, as the smooth-talking Londoner who isn’t all he seems. However, a sharp shift of tone – to a violent shootout – feels too sudden, despite an impressively committed performance from Scriven. More consistency is needed to tell this apparently real-life story, something that this company feel like they could achieve with more time, development and perhaps also the help of a director. Sally Stott

THEATRE

Tales of Vomit, Trash and Broken Glass **

theSpace on the Mile (Venue 39) until 27 August

The air is poisoned, the apocalypse is here and, as their world, words and memories break down, a couple struggle to make sense of things, along with us, the audience. Focused more on experimentation than coherent storytelling, this piece follows the characters through six separate scenes – including a car accident, a reimagined board game, and a greenhouse. As the staccato dialogue merges with a woman doing on-stage signing, it feels like an experiment that’s trying to push the boundaries of what theatre can be. But what could work for a few minutes as performance art struggles to sustain a show for nearly an hour and a half. Sally Stott

THEATRE

The Lacehouse **

theSpace on North Bridge (Venue 36) until 27 August

Following the death of their father, three sisters travel back in time through their family history (with the help of a crystal ball from Amazon). They meet their parents as they’re about to get married, and reconcile their differences with each other and the past. The characters could be more developed, but the performances are thoughtful and natural. It is also a piece that demonstrates the power of a classic time travel structure, shared with great films such as Back to the Future and It’s a Wonderful Life, through a moving ending, which pushes more familiar emotional buttons. Sally Stott