Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: Colossal | Activities of Daily Living | Ram of God | A Time Traveller’s Guide to the Present | Block’d Off
An unsettling date with a hopeless romantic and a pan-sexual cult leader who wants you to join their milky ritual are among the highlights of our latest theatre round-up. Reviews by Sally Stott, Rory Ford and Fiona Shepherd
Underbelly (Venue 61), until 28 August
Dan’s an open-hearted romantic looking for love, with a poetic perspective that is out of kilter with the mindless beats of the modern-day clubs. He’d rather be listening to ballads, meeting parents, gushing over a YouTube video of a duck. But towering tall and staring out at us from the cavernous stage, there’s something about him that’s deeply wrong.
In Patrick McPherson’s solo-performed show (co-created with James Lane), he takes us on a tour of Dan’s past romances, with men, women, business types, arty types, and it quickly becomes apparent there have been a lot of them. Approaching dating with a professionalism that can’t quite be hidden by his casual smile, we encounter him as he meets yet another prospective partner. “No-one knows how to do this,” he sings, and we’ve all had a past, right? You might well find yourself agreeing.
On the dark side of what initially feels like a romantic comedy but definitely isn’t, Dan travels through the familiar “beginning, middle and end” of one of the more prominent “gravestones” of his past relationships, a woman who neither he, nor we, ever really get to know. Painting himself as an innocuous, likeable everyman, “more Calpol than tequila”, he helpfully explains that breaking up “gets easier the more you play”. And while his claim that he “falls in love quickly” might sound refreshingly honest, as the mask he creates to appeal to as many people as possible occasionally slips, what’s beneath is quite horrifying.
McPherson’s skilfully structured monologue slowly reveals the existential emptiness of a man who has cynically constructed a persona to enable him to collect partners like trophies but in doing so seems to be causing as much – if not more – damage to himself as anyone else. Is he a narcissist? A sociopath? Something worse? Should he have our sympathy or our horror? We’re left to decide and, as the show finishes, escape. Sally Stott
Activities of Daily Living ***
Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14), until 29 August
There’s a subtle deftness of technique to this that only comes with the experience that age brings. Fringe first-timer Joanna Lipari, a veteran of New York theatre and LA TV, defies the “cultural burkha” of her 73 year-old body to relive moments in her life – the activities of daily living that make us who we are. It's a polished presentation with Lipari's memories illustrated by very impressive animations projected behind her. Although some of these childhood anecdotes aren’t as compelling as she may think, they are clearly important to her and the show does grow ever more engaging. In its best moments, such as the sad story of an unfortunate one-night stand, it’s like an elegantly illustrated autobiographical comic book come to life. This is no mere gimmick either: Lipari interacts with these animations with quite remarkable timing. There's an endearing lightness of touch to these – seemingly random – memories; little stories of hope, humour and heartbreak. Lipari’s script demonstrates a real gift for turning some anecdotes into peculiarly evocative short stories. She’d make for a fine writer of graphic novels if she ever fancied a career change. It’s never too late. Rory Ford
Ram of God ***
Assembly Roxy (Venue 139), until 28 August
Budge over Baphomet and push off Pan – there’s a new cloven-hoofed deity in town and his/her/their name is Ram, a magnificently coiffed and tattooed rock god who addresses their New Age hippy flock from a stepladder pulpit. Enter this place of mild audience participation/coercion with curiosity and a sense of silliness and, after a preparatory worship briefing from the chief acolyte, grab your apocalypse party bag, familiarise yourself with the instructions card therein and prepare for take-off to a higher plane.
Hear gonzo visions imparted over an ambient backing track. Join the bleated chant. Submit to the Finger of Truth and you could become Follower of the Week. Headbang to a couple of Alice Cooper-style rock-out numbers played on a very small guitar - who knows what Ram is over-compensating for here but let’s all drink from the goodness of their multiple teats in a mass milky ritual. Apologies for peeking behind the curtain, but Ram is the creation of performance artist Theodora van der Beek who satirises the main features of religious cults – exploitation, sexualisation, give me all your money, all your hugs and kisses too – in a fun hour that is about as deep and spiritual as a Milky Bar. Fiona Shepherd
A Time Traveller’s Guide to the Present **
theSpace on North Bridge (Venue 36), until 27 August
Time isn’t wasted watching this perplexing one-man show from energetic performer Doug Harvey but it’s not exactly well-spent either. When a signal from the past disrupts the future, a time traveller is sent back to fix things. Playing cavemen, cowboys, fathers, brothers and a William Hartnell-esque scientist tasked with delivering jargon-riddled exposition, Harvey deftly slips between broad comedy and sincere emotion. You don’t doubt that this all makes perfect sense to him because his virtuosic performance never falters but you suspect that Harvey would be rather more successful if his material was a little less ambitious. Rory Ford
Block’d Off **
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33), until 29 August (not 23)
Achingly well-intentioned and very well performed by Camila Segal it’s nevertheless hard to recommend this collage of stories about Londoners trapped by urban deprivation. It’s a collection of different voices – from elderly Brazilian women to tough young drug dealers – based on real stories but Kieton Saunders-Browne’s script is so self-consciously serious that it sometimes plays like a parody. Showing as part of the Pleasance’s Generate Fund to platform UK-based, black, Asian and global majority artists, obvious care has been taken with the production’s technical aspects and Segal clearly knows the material inside out but it is a struggle to engage with. Rory Ford