Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: False Start | The Beast Will Rise | Greg | Marriage In Progress | Fire Signs | The Final Approach

The sweaty rituals of high-performance athletics are examined in an exhilarating physical show, while an immersive noir film/soundscape takes you on a trip to hell. Reviews by Katie Hawthorne, Rory Ford and Fiona Shepherd

False Start ****

Summerhall, until 14 August

Three, two, one! The crowd goes wild! Then it’s back to the starting block. In this sweaty and ritualistic physical theatre, conceived by director Ingrid von Wantoch Rekowski, four performers-turned-sprinters bounce on the start line as the clock ticks down, waiting for the gun. Pre-run habits are performed with religious fervour: arms stretched, laces tied, a wink for the camera, a wave at the crowd. As the sound of thumping heartbeats bleeds into pulsing techno, False Start finds the machine in these rehearsed, repeated behaviours – how dedicated, fanatical training can turn bodies into robots. But it also reveals the sheer humanity of it all: the physical pain in the name of transcendence, the mental strain of pushing past the limit in the name of glory, the rush of euphoria if – and only if – it all pays off.

Disembodied sports pundits chatter over the top of Jeanne Dailler, Pierre Gervais, Ninon Pérez and Laurent Staudt’s physical exertions, a surreal counterpoint to their breathless efforts. One pundit remarks that it takes ten seconds for a sprinter to determine their fate, and the comparison to a Fringe show is stark: years of craft, months of practice, all boiled into a make-or-break performance. False Start grew out of a five-minute “flash” version, and it deserves this hypnotic, extended run – as the performers tire, their limbs finding looser movements, the audience urges them on. In turn, it asks us to reflect: what does it mean to win?

Best of all is when, lit by Jan Maertens’ simple, striking lighting, the four convulse into slow-motion tableaux: faces smeared with desire, limbs bent back, nails scratching into the fabric of a competitor’s shirt. It’s grotesque and biblical and exhilarating – a complex testament to the human need for speed. Katie Hawthorne

The Beast Will Rise **

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall, until 13 August

False Start PIC: Antoine Porcher

This world stage premiere of a collection of stories by British author Phillip Ridley (The Reflecting Skin) is frustratingly oblique. They’re actually four dramatic monologues performed with great commitment by Lily Maryon, who handles the poetic language well. Like the puzzle in the first tale they do – sort of – fit together by the end of the final (over-)long monologue, Gators, but it’s a long and often tedious journey. There are recurring themes: alienation, sudden death, cruelty to animals and flowers. It probably does repay repeat viewings, but it’s hard to imagine many would want to sit through this twice. Rory Ford

Greg **

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall, until 13 August

Undergraduate trio Baxter Westby, Iris Taylor and Hugo Williamson make their Fringe debut as Duck in Arms Theatre Company with this would-be tale of intrigue about neglected friendships. Former schoolmates Sally and Michael haven’t seen or heard from their one-time buddy Greg for five years when he proposes catch-up drinks out of the blue. But what begins as an underwhelming comedy of awkward blunders, passive-aggressive one-upmanship and hints of cruelty and criminality where old rivalries collide suddenly switches tone and stretches credibility with a handbrake twist of overwrought proportions. Fiona Shepherd

Marriage In Progress ***

Zoo Playground, until 13 August

Lauren Katz is walking on hot coals. Or is she? Joey Slotnick raises an eyebrow, and suddenly she’s on a tightrope, peering nervously at a chasm beneath her feet. The mime-improv experts’ current show circles around marriage, poking fun at bickering long-timers and nervous proposals via loose metaphors and moments straight from the therapist’s couch. It fits that Katz (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Slotnick (The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, The Good Wife) should take on such a topic. Their creative collaboration has been honed over 20 years of teamwork, and they poke fun at how the first rule of improv – a quick yes – forms the basis of any good relationship.

Sometimes the skits cover well-trodden territory: a couple hanging artwork on the wall, waiting in an interminably long queue, or awkwardly flirting after a break-up. But occasionally a simple cocktail turns into a battle of life and death, or a precious watch gets lost in a mountain of sand. It can be hard to keep up, as Katz and Slotnick’s seemingly psychic connection allows them to fast-forward through scenarios without clueing in the crowd, but it’s enjoyably low stakes to watch such seasoned performers flex their muscles. Katie Hawthorne

Fire Signs **

Pleasance Courtyard, until 15 August

With their usual Bedlam Theatre home out of commission this Fringe, Edinburgh University Theatre Company haven’t travelled too far – geographically or imaginatively – for this campus tale of sophomores behaving badly, or just typically, as best friends Bobbie and Emma lurch from awkward encounter to mild melodrama in their search for love with astrologically compatible candidates. Lana Stone’s script derives some weak laughs from gentle send-ups of the extra-curricular activities, lifestyle choices and stereotypical characters in the student firmament while the cast oblige with hackneyed portrayals of neurotic ingénues, self-absorbed artistic pseuds and macho boors and bores. Fiona Shepherd

The Final Approach ***

Underbelly Bristo Square, until 29 August

If the simplest definition of noir as a genre is the protagonist being drop kicked into hell – usually as a result of a fatal flaw of their character – then this immersive, ambitious production drags each and every member of the audience into the nightmare too. Sam is the campus outsider, obsessed with film noir and detective stories, traumatised by his parents’ divorce and struggling with not having slept for days. A long-term crush gives him a lead on a case and, really, that’s about as much rational sense you’ll be able to glean from this as Sam’s sleep deprivation makes him the ultimate unreliable narrator.

As presented by writer-director Thom Jordan, this is a film noir/immersive soundscape performed live on stage. Each member of the audience is provided with their own headphones, and Jordan performs to a camera and mic, with the black-and-white footage projected alongside him. It's endlessly inventive: Jordan uses filters to change his voice, which is initially distancing but this is the sort of show that you just have to go along with. It’s overambitious, almost impossible to follow, and ends rather weakly, but it’s also uniquely enjoyable if you fancy a trip to hell. Rory Ford