Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: Blue | A Portrait of Ludmilla As Nina Simone | Be Home Soon | The Dead of Night | Curses | The Typewriter

A tense two-hander and a unique tribute to the eloquently angry spirit of Nina Simone are among the highlights of our latest batch of Fringe theatre reviews.

Blue ****

Assembly George Square (Venue 8) until 28 August

A man and a woman walk into a room in LA. The tone is matey, in-jokey… they’re here for some kind of official business, only a formality to be cleared up, then they can be on their way. The man has nothing to worry about, this is just a bit of necessary form-filling. Then she realises she’s forgotten batteries for her tape recorder, and when she leaves the room his sweat breaks and he begins rifling frantically through her notes.

June Carryl’s incredibly tight, tense two-handed play takes an urgent subject which has been explored often in dramatised form in recent years, and offers a fresh spin on it with the pace of a classic interrogation room crime thriller.

The man is Sergeant Boyd Sully (John Colella) and the investigating internal affairs officer opposite is Detective LaRhonda Parker (Carryl herself), whose father and husband were respectively an old friend and the street partner of Sully.

Their friendliness is rich in authentic, conversational familiarity, but there’s an undercurrent. Sully is being questioned as to why he shot dead a driver who pulled away from a routine traffic stop; the perp/victim was a black man and a decorated US Army veteran suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Parker, meanwhile, is also black, and as their conversation unfolds it becomes clear she won’t let the ties of police loyalty prevent her from securing justice.

“This badge means something,” snaps Sully, as his story is unpicked and evidence comes to light of his participation in the Capitol riots. “It's this or the wilderness.” Parker bites back: “I look at you and all I see is a gun.” Carryl’s writing and Michael Matthews’ direction of it crackles in the air like a thunderstorm about to begin, with all the naturalistic potency of Twelve Angry Men condensed into the form of one woman who’s had enough.

Blue (Photo Copyright Michael Matthews)Blue (Photo Copyright Michael Matthews)
Blue (Photo Copyright Michael Matthews)

David Pollock

A Portrait of Ludmilla As Nina Simone ***

French Institute in Scotland (Venue 168) until 14 August

As the title attests, there is a lot of Nina Simone in David Lescot’s new play, which falls somewhere between tribute show and theatrical presentation. Simone fans will hear renderings of some of her most iconic songs but there are parallel stories and themes which are teased out across the course of this biographical celebration of the woman born Eunice Waymon.

Lescot plays a key role in the piece, not least as backing multi-instrumentalist, but the star is the eponymous Senegalese-Cameroonian singer Ludmilla Dabo who finds inspiration and a degree of common experience with Simone. She wisely makes no attempt to impersonate Simone – the pitch and timbre of her voice is quite distinct – but effortlessly inhabits the spirit of Simone’s eloquently expressed anger.

This is an elegant portrait in an opulent room but it begins in raw worksong mode with stamps and claps through which the performers have to compete with the noise bleed from street artists on Parliament Square. Soon enough, the performance builds up a head of steam via civil rights anthems Sinnerman and Mississippi Goddam, while a sidebar interview regarding Dabo’s own classical education and racial activism is diverting and distracting in equal measure.

Fiona Shepherd

Be Home Soon ***

Greenside @ Infirmary Street (Venue 236) until 12 August

When Raf (Arran Kemp), a student in maths, meets the enigmatic Mel (Evie Carricker), an artist and professional free spirit, the course of his life is changed.

In Be Home Soon, the action is subject to Raf’s memory and state of mind; the past unfolds into the present, and the characters move nimbly between these two timelines, constant as clockwork. In the present, we watch Raf move in with Kaya (Natalia Leaper), a stranger found on SpareRoom, and it is through this event that Raf’s relationship with Mel is recounted.

Written by Liliana Newsam-Smith, Raf and Mel share moment after momentous moment (one stand-out scene sees them in a mock duel, wearing saucepans on their heads, and wielding wooden spoons like swords). Leaper’s flair for comedy can be relied upon to leaven the mood onstage, and her character prevents the story from becoming overly saccharine.

In demurring to convention, the play’s final moments are somewhat anticlimactic, but Be Home Soon is refreshing and enlivening, as it impresses the importance of appreciating the ways in which we are formed and transformed by others, and questions the differences between living and making a living - if indeed there is a difference at all.

Josephine Balfour-Oatts

The Dead of Night **

theSpace @ Niddry Street (Venue 9) until 12 August

There’s some decent original songs and well-drilled choreography in this evocation of one young woman journey through slumberland but, like a dream, you may struggle to remember it in the morning. If there’s a logic to this - even a dream logic - it’s hard to discern; it’s simply a phantasmagoric trip populated by half-remembered monstrous archetypes.

The songs do eventually become quite catchy by repetition of certain motifs and the large ensemble uses every inch of stage space available to them so there’s always a sense of movement, but this plays out like a sketch for a larger, more ambitious work that would benefit from a stronger framework.

Rory Ford

Curses *

theSpace @ Niddry Street (Venue 9) until 12 August

Some effective colourful wardrobe choices brighten this otherwise unfortunately inert witchy high school comedy by Isabella Levitt. Shy Rena harbours a crush on seemingly unobtainable netball captain, Leighton, but is offered a chance for romance by the sinister Keres if she's willing to dabble in the dark arts.

There's some flashes of enthusiasm from the game young performers and the interesting mix of accents is a plus but there's a dearth of laughs in the script and too often the cast are left sitting awkwardly onstage waiting for their next scene when they could comfortably use the empty audience seats on either side of the stage.

Rory Ford

The Typewriter **

Greenside @ Riddles Court (Venue 16) until 12 August

There’s a dreamlike sense of irreality – not an unpleasant one, it has to be said – that permeates Liverpool-based Ladderman Theatre Company’s rather baffling four-hander, where civil servants during World War II speak in 21st-century vernacular, where a teenage man-boy gets to try his hand at wartime propaganda, where wives and secretaries drift around apparently aimlessly.

The Typewriter deals with some ambitious themes – truth, guilt, responsibility among them – but it struggles with a coherent narrative arc in which to articulate them. Performances from the young cast are generally strong and committed, though – there’s a good show here, with a fair bit more development and clarity.

David Kettle