Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: Age is a Feeling | The Funny Thing About Death | The Unicorn | Fritz and Matlock | You’re Dead, Mate | Doris Does the Edinboiger Fridge
A poignant portrait of a life in 12 intertwined stories, plus death, sex parties, and marijuana farms. Reviews by Fergus Morgan, Rory Ford and David Pollock
Age is a Feeling ****
Summerhall, until 28 August
An entire life is crammed into Age is a Feeling, but each audience only gets to experience part of it. That is because the solo show from Canada-born, London-based actor and writer Haley McGee – creator of The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale, among other things – has a cleverly conceived structure: 12 intertwined stories from the same life, only six of which are performed at each show.
In Summerhall’s Anatomy Lecture Theatre, McGee sits atop a high chair in the centre of a circle of flower stands, each with a simple label attached – “Dog”, “Crabapple”, “Plane”, “Hospital”, “Diner”, for example– that she periodically proffers to the audience like a magician asking onlookers to choose a card. The labels that get picked determine the stories that get performed. The rest remain untold.
It’s a neat idea, an arresting echo of the fact that we only ever see snippets of other people’s lives. It also results in a really nice story, a decades-long, fathoms-deep yarn about life and death, ambition and resentment, illness and ageing, and, well, just about everything that constitutes existence. Lovers, friends and family members come and go – as does the laughter, as do the tears.
McGee tells the whole tale in the second person, future tense – “You will feel this”, “You will do that” – which lends her story an unforced intimacy. She is a natural storyteller, with a Ruth Wilson-ish ability to manipulate her audience – she turns on a sixpence, sometimes frank and funny, other times solemn and sad.
There are a few unnecessary gimmicks in Adam Brace’s direction, but this is a superb performance and a sensitive, smartly structured piece of writing, full of wit and an astonishing amount of wisdom from someone who’s only 36 years old. It’s a poignant portrait of a life – in parts. Fergus Morgan
The Funny Thing About Death ***
Greenside @ Infirmary Street, until 27 August
In an autobiographical show about that most universal of subjects – grief – Kim Kalish’s storytelling has one overwhelming asset: her. Kalish is charming, funny, and possessed of the winning self-confidence of a New York “theatre kid”, but she’s also got a special off-the-cuff quality that makes the audience warm to her almost instantly. Everyone deals with grief differently, and this is the story of how Kalish dealt with the sudden death of her college ex-boyfriend, Patrick, in 2008 – and how she’s still dealing with it. If you ever suspected that the death of a loved one hit you especially hard, at least be grateful that you didn’t end up spending $1,000 on Billy Joel songs in the space of three hours from iTunes. Perhaps the best aspects of Kalish’s story are the moments when it doesn’t seem like a show at all. If the story seems rambling at times, it’s not – it’s conversational, and Kalish always returns to the subject at hand. It’s consistently engaging and ultimately genuinely moving. It’s only rather undercut by the climax which eschews the practised naturalism of all that’s preceded it, but it does feel a bit mean to deny a New York theatre kid her moment in the spotlight. Rory Ford
The Unicorn ***
Pleasance Courtyard, until 29 August
There’s a refreshing lack of moralising in this new study of a young woman’s sex addiction from playwright Sam Potter. Andrea (Georgina Fairbanks) is fired from her job after making a sexual harassment complaint. Unable to properly connect with her friends or family, she seeks solace in daytime TV and casual sex. Neither is particularly satisfactory, but when she’s introduced to sex parties, she finds a whole new lust for life. What’s really interesting about Andrea is the dichotomy: she’s drawn to the orgies because of the anonymity rather than the physical sensations, but she also enjoys feeling special. “Unicorn” is slang for a single woman at an orgy, so called because they’re so rare – she's like a sexual superhero. Actor Fairbanks makes the most of this often darkly funny material. She starts at a manic clip, which is both appropriate to the character and as if she’s eager to get to the sex stuff, but you suspect that Potter’s dense script might benefit from a couple of judicious edits, just to let the performance breathe a bit more. Anthony Greyley’s production excels when using deft lighting and sound cues to evoke the different parties, and this manages an admirably matter-of-fact approach to fairly extreme sexual behaviour without ever being salacious. Rory Ford
Fritz and Matlock **
Pleasance Courtyard, until 29 August
Two strong – and loud – performances and even a couple of big laughs do make you want to like this Part of the Main Theatre Company show more, but dramatically, it’s content to spin its wheels for too much of its running time. Carl and Barry grow marijuana in the attic of Carl’s gran’s house, and they’ve also got a dead body in the freezer in the basement. They’re well played – and there are certainly flashes of smart writing – but Barry and Carl aren’t compelling enough characters to spend an hour with when there’s not a lot of plot and incident to keep you interested. Rory Ford
You’re Dead, Mate **
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall, until 27 August
Solid performances and some convincing on-stage violence can’t disguise the fact that this two-hander by Edmund Morris would play better at half the length. A hungover man in a black suit wakes up in his living room to find another man in a black (track)suit telling him he’s dead. It’s a mark of how over-stretched this is that the unwelcome guest’s identity is finally revealed five minutes after it’s blindingly obvious, yet still treated as a surprise. The show manages the shifts in tone quite well, but the humorous moments aren’t that funny, and the dramatic elements a bit dull. Rory Ford
Doris Does the Edinboiger Fridge **
theSpace on the Mile, until 27 August
Actor Bette Carlson Siler, a native of Woodstock, New York, initially appears to have designed her lead Doris as a comic naïf whose show-within-a-show is like a piece of character stand-up, founded mainly on the gag that she mispronounces everything, especially if it’s Scottish, with a side order of sweary New York bluntness. The latter is amusing, but the former wears thin, as does a running feud with her unvoiced tech ‘Olaf’. Later in the show, the revelation of this awkward but self-possessed character’s drink and mental health problems moves humour towards tragedy, but the overall tone lands awkwardly between the two. David Pollock