Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: A Sudden Violent Burst of Rain | Land – A Scottish Musical

Field of dreams: two persuasive and well-performed new Fringe plays look to the past to examine timely topics like border controls and land ownership. By Joyce McMillan

A Sudden Violent Burst of Rain ****

Roundabout @ Summerhall (Venue 26), until 27 August

Land – A Scottish Musical ****

Sara Hazemi in A Sudden Violent Burst of Rain

Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose (Venue 24), until 28 August (not 24)

In a world facing environmental crisis, nothing matters more than the land, and how we use, abuse and controls it; and it’s a presence that looms large in these two powerful new Fringe shows, both of which reach back into the past, to find new ways of thinking about the future.

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In Sami Ibrahim’s A Sudden Violent Burst of Rain, produced by Paines Plough and Rose Theatre in association with Gate Theatre, the story begins almost like a fairytale, as our heroine Elif describes her life in a beautiful island kingdom, as an itinerant sheep-shearer with some almost magical powers. As this 70-minute show unfolds, though, in Yasmin Hafesji’s beautiful and intense production, reality bites harder with every scene, until reality and fantasy finally split apart altogether.

It emerges that Elif is an “illegal” immigrant, a war refugee who has arrived without registering properly; and when she gives birth to a daughter – an event described in true fairytale terms – she and her child are forced to move to the city, where Elif queues endlessly for the papers that will make them citizens, and the only work available is back-breaking manual labour.

As a poetic metaphor for the plight of asylum-seekers in Britain, in other words, Elif’s story could hardly be more vivid or poignant; and Sara Hazemi is unforgettable as the bewildered Elif, with Princess Khumalo and Samuel Tracy offering strong support in a range of other roles, all backed by Rory Botha’s haunting score.

Elif’s life only deteriorates and becomes more powerless, the further she is forced away from the rich agricultural earth that gives us all life; and Scotland is also a country with historic experience of disempowerment for ordinary people, through the loss of land. Bethany Tennick’s Land – with book by Iona Ramsay – is a new Scottish musical set in two timeframes, in which Robin Campbell and Christopher Alexander play both a young 18th century redcoat soldier taking refuge with an elderly Gaelic-speaking crofter, and a young gay man in a 21st century tenement who strikes up an awkward but affectionate relationship with the cantankerous old pensioner upstairs.

There’s something in this play about strong relationships between old and young can help overcome profound divisions in society; and the theme of dispossession hovers in the background, like the images of Highland landscape that flicker on the tiny onstage television screen. In the end, though – and despite some powerful onstage playing and singing from Tennick herself, and two thoughtful and poignant central performances – there seems to be far more to say about this theme than this show, in a brief hour, can even begin to suggest.