Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre, dance, physical theatre & circus reviews: Reclaim | The Mystery of Dyatlov | The Abrupt Son | The Society for New Cuisine | Being Sophie Scholl | The Great Ruckus | Oh My Heart, Oh My Home

Our latest batch of Fringe theatre reviews includes a unique big top fusion of opera and acrobatics, a darkly surreal study of grief, and a tension-fuelled two-hander set at a funeral.

Reclaim ****

Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows (Venue 360) until 26 August

In the world of contemporary circus, where everyone shares the same set of skills, there is a never-ending search for a unique selling point. And it would seem that Belgian company, Théâtre d'un Jour has actually found one. A work for five acrobats, two cellists and an opera singer, Reclaim brings together an unlikely set of comrades. Live music is not uncommon inside the big top, but an operatic voice is a novelty and, it transpires, a beautiful accompaniment to acrobatic manoeuvres.

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Inspired by a shamanic ritual from central Asia, the show opens with four male acrobats prowling the circular space like pack dogs. As playful as they are menacing, they grab an audience member’s shoe then set about attacking one of their fellow ‘animals’.

A small tree trunk centre stage is the focus for one performer wielding an axe, and the atmosphere is thick with primitive energy. Yet sitting alongside this testosterone-charged dominance, are two female cellists merrily playing away. It’s a dichotomy that’s both amusing and wonderfully bizarre.

What really sets Reclaim apart, however, is the moment when these two disparate worlds collide. It’s hard to imagine many CVs include the words ‘opera singer’ and ‘acrobat’, but Blandine Coulon’s does. Her powerful mezzo-soprano voice fills the air and if that’s all she did, it would be more than enough.

So when she’s hoisted into the air, standing confidently on a pair of raised palms, without a single quiver in her voice, it’s beyond impressive. When she does it again, but at the top of a three-person tower, it’s beyond belief. Likewise when a cellist, instrument and all, sits on the shoulders of another three-person tower and carries on bowing.


A seasoned circus-goer rarely gets the chance to say “I’ve never seen that before”. You will here.

Kelly Apter

The Mystery of Dyatlov Pass **

theSpace @ Symposium Hall (Venue 43) until 26 August

Originally intended - and billed - as an interactive performance, that aspect has perhaps unfortunately been dropped. In fairness, a "pick-a-path" adventure element could seem disrespectful to the young hikers who perished in the Ural Mountains of the Soviet Union in 1959, but it might have helped make this more engaging.

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This production by Glasgow-based Acting Coach Scotland is a well-staged, sincere attempt to present an accurate account of what we actually know of the ill-fated group, but it's often dryly factual.

It's hard to become emotionally engaged when we know that all but one of the expedition will survive and while the actors do well they can sometimes bump up against the very upper registers of their abilities when called upon to express heightened emotions.

Rory Ford

The Abrupt Son **

theSpace on the Mile (Venue 39) until 19 August

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Cynthia’s just given birth, but hates her baby boy because of what her former husband has done to her.

Violence leads to more violence in this uneven little two-hander which veers between Shakespearian-style monologue and more naturalistic exchanges that get stuck going round in circles, like blood being washed down a plughole, only to be intercepted by Cynthia’s unpredictable psyche, as she torments her growing son.

The cast are committed, but their exchanges too often end in shouting with nowhere else to go. As we descent into the disturbing melodrama, it’s an undeniably moody piece, but one that could make its dramatic purpose clearer.

Sally Stott

The Society for New Cuisine ***

Underbelly Cowgate (Venue 61) until 27 August

An utterly surreal tumble down the rabbit hole of one man’s grief, writer-performer Chris Fung’s masterful performance in this debut marks him out as one to watch.

Caught in a maelstrom of self-destructive behaviour after a traumatic event, our protagonist is offered the chance to make some quick cash by a shadowy organisation called the Society for New Cuisine. As his dependence on the Society grows, it becomes clear that what they’re really offering him is a chance at enlightenment—or annihilation.

Dark, sharp and delicious, Fung’s fable-like play is replete with the language of consumption: images of voracious caterpillars, toothy sharks and overindulgent meals strain at the seams of their description. They pulse throughout the protagonist’s descent, signifying the terrible emptiness that can hollow out one’s life, no matter how much you try to fill it with sex, or things, or prestige.

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It speaks to the confidence of Fung’s writing that so much of his show operates on this level of subtext and symbolism, without getting heavy-handed.

Unfortunately, Fung’s normally tight control over the play’s pitch and pace slightly unravels in the third half, losing the audience in a philosophical jumble during the protagonist’s final tailspin. Regardless, there is now absolutely an appetite for whatever he serves up next.

Deborah Chu

Being Sophie Scholl **

theSpace @ Symposium Hall (Venue 43) until 26 August

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Glasgow-based student company Acting Coach Scotland tell the story of anti-Nazi activist Sophie Scholl, convicted of treason for distributing anti-war leaflets and executed by guillotine in 1943 alongside her brother Hans, a founder of the White Rose resistance movement.

In one of the production’s more imaginative choices, the three actresses in the company each play Sophie as a smart, moral and defiant campaigner. Her enlightenment is traced in flashback while her interrogation by the Gestapo is used as a standard framing device without ever generating much tension. The banality of her crime versus the extremity of her end is shocking enough in itself.

Fiona Shepherd

The Great Ruckus ***

Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) until 28 August

The latest play by award-winning writer Izzy Tennyson joins the surprising number of shows on the Fringe this year about funerals. In this two-hander, sisters Jo (Tennyson) and Ida (Grace Chilton) snipe and bicker their way through their mother’s send-off, banding together only when they need to protect themselves from their grotesque relatives.

From their maternal grandmother, the wonderfully nicknamed Doom, to their father’s parents, the flirtacious Flea and her spiteful husband who seems more concerned about the M&S buffet than anything or anyone, to their busybody godmother Cecilia Fox and her dull son Adam, a colourful cast assembles in the wings. They are further brought to life by Tennyson’s Ronald Searle-inspired drawings of them projected onto the backdrop.

Tennyson’s play is complex, witty, acerbic, her observations sharp and unsentimental, and both performers wrestle with the intricacy of the language. Tensions run high, bad behaviour gets worse, class divisions surface and, while the gothic family drama simmers, the troubled Jo tries to answer her mother’s last question: What are you going to do with your life?

Susan Mansfield

Oh My Heart, Oh My Home ****

Summerhall (Venue 26) until 27 August

What does home mean? In particular, those much-loved homes full of memories which become anchors in life even when we no longer live in them? Storyteller and theatre-maker Casey Jay Andrews addresses this question in this small but perfectly formed show.

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Freddie is travelling back home to the rambling house where she grew up and where her grandfather, Howard, has lived alone since the death of his beloved wife Wyn. He is a keen amateur astronomer and together they plan to watch the meteor shower which follows the comet Tempel-Tuttle. Its last orbit was 33 years ago, when Freddie was born.

Andrews, who is also a designer (she was assistant head of design on Punchdrunk International’s The Burnt City), has created a magical doll’s house which mirrors the house in the story, gradually revealing its rooms as the show progresses. A gentle soundtrack by George Jennings and Jack Brett (who plays live) softens the edges the tale. There are film clips, too, though perhaps they are not necessary: the story itself is enough.

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It’s a story of dogs and meteors, families and loneliness, trees and stars, woven together with compassion and humour. Like the meteor itself, it’s both small enough to fit in your hand and big enough to blow your mind, holding the minutiae of ordinary lives as well as the fact that there are more trees on earth than there are stars in the Milky Way.

Andrews’ work has been praised by Daniel Kitson, and her brand of kind, quirky, poetic storytelling is not unlike his. In this show, she has found a perfect container for the big, small story: a house which holds the echoes of those who once lived there in the same way that light continues to reach us from long extinguished stars.

Susan Mansfield