Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: Fanboy | Dr Glas | Terrence the T-Rex | Lightweight | Runaway Princess: A Hopeful Tale of Heroin, Hooking and Happiness
Pleasance Dome (Venue 23), until 29 August
The Fringe programme describes Joe Sellman-Leava’s new monologue Fanboy as a “nostalgic love-hate letter to popular culture”; but in truth, there’s much more than that to this complex and finally very moving show about how it feels to be in your early 30's, in 2022.
There’s certainly a full-blown second-generation Star Wars obsession at the centre of Joe’s semi-autobiographical story. The UK premiers of the Star Wars prequels, from 1999 onwards, were major events in his childhood; and for Joe - a previous Fringe First winner and self-proclaimed “lifelong nerd” - the question of attitudes to those prequels looms large through his youth, in his relationship both with his close friend who despises them, and the girl he falls in love with, who confesses that she loves them.
Sellman-Leava’s audience shrieks with delighted laughter and recognition, as Joe rummages through his favourite Star Wars merchandise, re-enacts word-perfect scenes from the movies, and chats on his laptop screen to his delightful childhood self, somehow escaped from an old home video; and in an age when cultural phenomena like Star Wars have become key markers of affinity and identity, that might, for many, be the whole point of the show.
It’s not enough for Sellman-Leava, though; and like many British writers this year, he also wrestles with the Brexit trauma of 2016, the divisions it caused, the online fault-lines that opened up even among Star Wars pals, and how all of those trends were exaggerated by two years of lockdown. In the end, he has to make a real choice between hope and despair, in the face of the frightening crises we now face; and although the epic drama of Star Wars still has much to tell him about both, it’s when he turns to his childhood self and promises, in the real world, to try not to betray all the hopes that child had, that this show reaches its true grown-up conclusion. Joyce McMillan
Dr Glas ****
Paradise in Augustines, until 28 August
The novel that scandalised Scandanavia, Hjalmar Söderberg’s 1905 psychological thriller is brought vividly to life in this stage adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher. Although “vividly” may seem an odd word to use when the stage is set with only two simple chairs, Dr Glas is brought to life in all his complexities with remarkable clarity by veteran British actor Daniel Gerrol.
Based on the David Barrett English translation first published in 2002, it’s tempting to view as a proto Scandi-noir. Told as a series of diary entries, Glas is introduced as a man of strong opinions; he struggles with the women who come to him wanting to terminate their pregnancies, believing in their right to choose but forced to bleat weakly about the law. He believes in euthanasia and carries six potassium cyanide pills - for his own use - if his body begins to fail as badly as the “wrecks” he’s forced to prop up. His career as a doctor has left him with a lingering distaste for humanity but when the young wife of a corrupt old priest begs Glas to help her because her husband’s forced attentions are distressing her, Glas instructs the clergyman to forge his “marital rights” for at least six months for the sake of his ailing heart but he proves to be a slave to his desires.
With its remarkably progressive title character and its themes of abortion, assisted dying, adultery and murder, Söderberg’s book triggered a vicious campaign against him in Sweden. It’s as much a psychological study as a thriller and Daniel Gerrol tells the story remarkably, carefully etching all the supporting players with grace and ease. Simple yet effective lighting evokes Glas gradually losing his sense of self and this, combined with his symbolically laden dreams, lend this an almost Bergmanesque quality. Rory Ford
Terrence the T-Rex ***
Paradise in The Vault (Venue 29), until 28 August
The niche world of dinosaur impersonators is revealed, like a fun BBC sitcom waiting to picked up, in Alex Zawalnyski and Clara Wessely’s surreal, funny and quintessentially Fringe show. “Dinosaurs should be accessible to all ages,” says Terrence, a committed performer and ancient history enthusiast standing before us in what seems like an anatomically correct papa mâché head, slightly miffed to joined by Sarah(saurus), fresh from ‘the agency’, who’s now getting half of his fee.
There’s a fascinating Extras-esque world of jobbing actors and the hierarchy of this uber-niche profession that underpins writer Zawalnyski’s smart little unfolding story, which includes the fanatical Terrance working his way up from understudy velociraptor to senior T-Rex, a role that seems off bounds to women such as Sarah, even though her dad is the original icon of the professional dinosaur performer scene.
As new discoveries threaten the authenticity of Terrence’s intricately handmade outfit and his colleague/ former love interest Daphne steals his ideas, there feels like a lot of places that this intriguing story of a dinosaur-eat-dinosaur world could go beyond what evolves into more static chats between the two workmates, as they contemplate (this) their next show. Sally Stott
Underbelly George Square (Venue 300), until 29 August
Based on the true life story of writer and performer Amie Enriquez, Lightweight is an honest, inventive and well-performed one woman show examining what it’s like to experience and survive anorexia.
It opens in the clinic where she is being treated for the condition with a combination of therapies, before flashing back to her life in New York. It is here where her unhealthy attitudes to food first develop, as she experiments with ever-stronger laxatives, extreme exercise and counting every calorie. In a forthright first half we’re introduced to the myriad of factors that may - or may not - have led to her coming close to starving herself to death, from the September 11 attacks to a career as a teenage model. Returning to her worried mother’s home for Christmas, it’s heartbreaking to hear her use ever more outlandish excuses for not eating. “I’m allergic to oils”, she pleads, before ‘accidentally’ dropping garlic bread on the floor.
Less successful are a couple of flights of fancy in the latter stages of the show, with a puzzling ‘Christmas Carol’ style visit from the ghost of Karen Carpenter and a puppetry segment adding little to what is a powerful story she clearly feels driven to tell. David Hepburn
Runaway Princess: A Hopeful Tale of Heroin, Hooking and Happiness ***
Greenside @ Infirmary Street (236), until 27 August
There is a moment, most years during the Fringe, when you realise you are listening to a story which is (a) true, (b) told by the person to whom these events happened and (c) completely extraordinary. This year, for me, it’s Mary Goggin, with her all-American tale of drinking, drugs and prostitution and how (incredibly) she overcame it all.
Though the beginning has overtones of a fable or fairytale, the book is quickly cast aside and we’re into Bronx tale territory as 13-year-old Mary runs away from home and takes refuge with drug addicts. Then the story’s coming at us thick and fast: East Village, home, detention, home, pregnancy, drinking, cirrhosis of the liver, detox, street-walking, being fired from the legendary brothel The Mustang Ranch.
And yet somehow, Mary is here, 34 years sober, reunited with her beloved daughter and talking about hope and healing. If the structure is a bit rough and ready, well, why wouldn’t it be? This might have some way to go as a finished piece of theatre, but this woman deserves five stars just for making it through. Susan Mansfield