Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: Fills Monkey: We Will Drum You | Up Her Sleeve | Velvet Determination | Sugar | Peaceophobia | Cock-Tales: The Antidote to the Vagina Monologues

Our latest reviews round-up includes some high-energy percussion-based clowning, a bold and physical feminist piece, and a powerful exploration of Islamophobia. Words by Kate Copstick, David Pollock and Sally Stott.

Fills Monkey: We Will Drum You ****

Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)

After more than 1000 shows around the world and 500 pairs of broken sticks, this imaginative, uplifting and does-what-it-says-in-the-title hour of skilled, high-energy drumming and percussion-based clowning is a blast for anyone looking for non-challenging entertainment in the packed-out Pleasance Grand; less so for those who find the whacking sound of tennis rackets, a drill and baseball bat a bit much at this stage in the festival.

Fills Monkey: We Will Drum You. PIC: Nicolas Galloux.

Using the offbeats to spin sticks, comb their hair and shout “yeah!” – the two rock dude turned 'monkey' performers find a surprising amount of variation in what could be one extended drum solo that, in the second half, also mixes in otherworldly sounds from electronic drums, musical sticks, a dystopian-style banjo and what seems to be a repurposed sink, to create magical, musical moments of avant-garde experimentation disguised as populist fun.

On a deeper (but not too deep) level, humankind’s primal connection rhythm is recognised, with the audience instantly identifying classic songs, from Grease, Michael Jackson, Trainspotting, and Queen, simply by the iconic structures of their beats. With melodies that end almost as soon they start, the show is constantly moving on to the next idea – and, considering the concept, there’s a surprising amount of them. Sally Stott

Until 29 August

Up Her Sleeve ***

Greenside @ Riddles Court (Venue 16)

The free mini Crème Eggs the audience are given on the way in the door also serve as a little physical aide memoire of exactly what young performer Esme Michaela is talking about when she refers to a disembodied character named ‘Egg’.

It’s the egg within her character’s own womb, and this frank and physical piece from young female-led company Jury’s Out follows a twentysomething woman named Daphne’s growing knowledge of these eggs inside her, from teen periods to older sexual exploits during her student years.

Written by Michaela with Molly Exley-Kidd and Dan Schwartz, and directed by Melissa Holmes, Up Her Sleeve is a light-hearted but very feminist piece, which advocates for a woman’s physical and sexual self-knowledge, and also seeks to inform regarding specific health matters. Her debilitating period pain and discomfort during sex is eventually diagnosed as endometriosis, and the character’s thoughts around her own future fertility are woven into her response.

It's a small space to hold a show, with sightlines which aren’t great, but Michaela’s performance is bold and physical. The character and her experiences, surely widely relatable for young women, are delivered with clarity and humour in this sure-footed piece. David Pollock

Until 27 August

Velvet Determination ***

Greenside @ Nicolson Square (Venue 209)

Fringe debutante Cynthia Shaw presents a not atypical one-person Fringe show, in that she tells the story of her own life and struggles as a piece of live storytelling testimony.

What elevates Shaw’s show above many of her contemporaries doing the same thing is that, as well as being a rigorous and personable storyteller, she’s also an extremely talented pianist, whose career journey involves performing as a backing singer for Paul McCartney at Carnegie Hall and appearing with the New York Philharmonic.

This small room at Greenside’s venue on Nicolson Square is a world away, but she fills it with story and music, playing classical excerpts alongside her own tale of growing up in the industrial city of Pueblo, Colorado; the “armpit of the West”, as Midwesterners might call it. Her father was a musician and she was raised with music in the house, yet her attempt to get into the Manhattan School of Music still felt like a journey to another world.

Shaw’s formative years were in the 1970s, and her description of New York is that of a city which is bankrupt and crime-ridden in the era of the Son of Sam, but still a place and time of great personal and musical growth for her. Her story is as melodic as the music she plays. David Pollock

Until 27 August

Sugar ***

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53)

Writer and actor Mabel Thomas’ new one-woman play is a poised and confident piece of work, telling the story of an American woman from the age of six until young adulthood.

Specifically, it details how relationships with males have formed her young life, from the besotted schoolboy who kisses her before a race in childhood, forming her idea that he was cheating and she can’t let a boy get away with that, to an altogether darker sequence at the end.

By this point in her late teens, she’s decided to go for the supposedly easy money of being a ‘Sugar Baby’, or an internet date for any older man who wishes companionship or to fawn and be fawned over by a young woman. In between, we hear stories of her playground entrepreneurialism and her earliest desires for women.

Some of these segments meander around the main purpose of the play, acting as episodic vignettes around this invented character, where the closing sequence feels more like a mini-play in its own right.

It feels inevitable that one of her anonymous clients will turn out to be an abusive individual, but there’s real power in multi-talented Royal Conservatoire of Scotland graduate Thomas’ handling of this sequence, folding degradation, redemption and an intriguing implied critique of capitalism together. David Pollock

Until 27 August

Peaceophobia ***

Summerhall @ Q Park - OMNI (Venue 616)

Deep in the underground car park of a shopping centre, with what must be one of the most exciting sets at the Fringe, this exploration of Islamophobia follows three Bradford men, who meet up with their neon-lit (occasionally speaking!) cars, one of which is reassembled live on stage.

A collage of scenes depicting the men’s lives come together to give an impression of relentless daily discrimination: from being stopped by the police for no apparent reason to casual prejudice from strangers.

Writer Zia Ahmed’s script, co-created with the cast (Mohammad Ali Yunis, Casper Ahmed, and Sohail Hussain) and based on an idea from the Speaker’s Corner collective, struggles to settle on a single story or relationship, instead favouring a multi-authored patchwork approach where the development of the characters gets buried in the fragmented, often poetic writing, which also draws in physical theatre and magic.

There are powerful moments of anger within the understated performances which, with the help of Common Wealth’s glorious production design – conjuring up bright lights, revving engines, dark streets and electronic beats – make for an extremely immersive experience. Seeing the three characters drive off, finally able to get on with their evening out in peace, is a thrill. Sally Stott

Until 27 August

Cock-Tales: The Antidote to the Vagina Monologues ***

TheSpace @ Venue 45

This is a sweet, friendly and funny hour spent talking cock. And occasionally balls. Just yer average (five inches, we learn) trio of middle aged men helping us tackle the sticky subject of the soft undercarriage of the male.

It is educational stuff, described as 'an antidote to The Vagina Monologues'. Before feminist hackles get a stiffie, this is the jolliest, most gentlemanly approach to anybody's genitals you can imagine. Nothing here to frighten the horses, although horses do get a mention.

The hour takes us from the first comparisons in the shower room, through penis anxiety, envy and advice for sensible penis ownership. There are songs, there is trauma (I will just say one word: zip), there are 'syndromes' and there is censorship. The show is not political, not angry, not even worried. It is good old-fashioned entertainment in the shape of meat and two veg'.

This 'softly softly' approach (everything is a double entendre now …) means even porn, Loretta Bobbitt and hammer related injuries are not as 'touchy' subjects as they might be elsewhere. I will never hear Funicoli Funicola again without thinking of willies. Go. Take your sons. Take your daughters. Learning with laughs – it is great. Kate Copstick

Until 27 August