Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: Frankie Thompson and Liv Ello: Body Show | Crash and Burns: A New Comedy | Asexuality! | Until Death | Fit Ye Sayin’ Quine | Strays

Our latest batch of Fringe theatre reviews includes an interrogation of gender, dysmorphia and eating disorders, plus a fast-paced comedy set on Burns Night and an insightful musical drama about a rarely covered subject.

Frankie Thompson and Liv Ello: Body Show ****

Pleasance (Venue 33) until 27 August

Frankie Thompson and Liv Ello are standing arm in arm as the audience enter, dressed in the flouncy pink dress and smart black tux of a heterosexual wedding cake-topper. Moments later, the enormous cake before them is sliced in two, the halves pushed apart to frame the stage. Body Show holds its audience in the messy middle, interrogating gender, dysmorphia and eating disorders through anarchic, brilliant pop-cultural collage.

The set (by Cara Evans) is littered with gendered paraphernalia (bombs, cowboy hats, hair extensions, tutus), and TV screens displaying dizzying montages of explosions, interviews, and horrifying adverts. Meanwhile, Ello and Thompson perform surreal clownish rituals, patchworking together decades of damaging tropes to create a Frankenstein’s monster from the history of gender.

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“How does that feel?” Ello asks Thompson, and that simple question is Body Show’s driving force. The duo tries on plastic body parts (enormous fake boobs, a muscular torso) and asks naive yet rare questions about the sensations we experience when our bodies change shape, or when we shape our own bodies in return. This is a clever, confidently chaotic show, and the audience are trusted to find their own answers by picking through a trash mountain of out-dated cultural references.

Levity comes in the form of the duo’s smart physical comedy, and in their expert high-low curation: a splicing together of the Last Supper and Come Dine With Me has the audience howling, as does Ello’s painfully sweet performance of a clueless Ken who’s lost something very important. “Can you look under your chairs?” they plead, wide-eyed.

Like putting this summer’s Barbenheimer discourse into a blender, Body Show pokes and pinches at our obsession with binaries, and how we use them to control ourselves and others. This control, they suggest, is why even at the end of the world, we’ll still be looking at ourselves in the mirror.

Crash and Burns: A New ComedyCrash and Burns: A New Comedy
Crash and Burns: A New Comedy

Katie Hawthorne

Crash and Burns: A New Comedy ***

Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose (Venue 24) until 27 August

Auld acquaintances are stretched beyond breaking point in this bright new comedy by Amy Yeo. Set on Burns Night after their graduation, six university friends get together to catch up. One of them (or is it two?) may be going to America, but it’s still a secret. Similarly, relationships may be ending - or are they? No-one can bring themselves to be honest with themselves let alone each other and the fall-out is increasingly farcical - although, not kilt-droppingly so.

This is necessarily fast and furiously paced stuff swiftly staged by director Hannah Rogerson who makes good use of lighting cues and set design. All the cast are good and unusually all have quite distinct acting styles that spark off each other well. Its a good mix from naturalism to whatever Evelyn Faber who plays Fiona is doing; an almost Kabuki-esque portrait of barely controlled fury that provides some distinct comic highlights. Yeo cleverly pairs all her characters off so that she can eventually keep switching pacily between three different scenarios.

This loses a little momentum in its closing scenes as you can sense Yeo essentially reiterating her themes but it does ultimately offer satisfying closure and plenty of laughs along the way.

Rory Ford

Asexuality! ***

Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose (Venue 24) until 27 August

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This is amiable and inviting solo-performed musical drama, in which we meet Robert who, accompanied by a singing chorus of alter-egos, goes on a journey to discover who he, or she, really is. As someone who “likes girls” but has never wanted to have sex with them and also likes boys, but not in “that way”, Robert provides an insightful perspective on what it might be like to be asexual – a subject that’s not often talked about on stage or elsewhere.

The confessional dialogue, which also explores being transsexual, rattles along thanks to writer and performer Rebecca McGlynn’s upbeat style of storytelling, which includes reworkings of Disney songs, accompanied by a backing track, that have a simple, karaoke-style charm.

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At times, the piece feels like it could benefit from more theatrical polish and pizazz, but also there’s something sweet about the fact that it goes for something more understated and authentic than a showier piece might. A song about all the things that are “better than sex” is particularly fun – and at a festival that can often seem obsessed with it, it’s a refreshing change that’s quietly subversive.

Sally Stott

Until Death ***

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53) until 26 August

There is a bat on the loose in Surgeons Hall, pursued by a man wielding a cleaning product like a sword, in the dazzlingly charismatic Nalini Sharma's not-quite-one-woman-show that, like an origami version of the creature currently terrorising the venue, gradually unfolds to reveal an ever-changing array of bizarre and brilliant characters who inhabit an institution that’s as much medical as it is magical.

A woman in a wheelchair who wishes she hadn’t given her kidney to her daughter but can now perform a fun (for her) trick on an audience member is a highlight, as is a new shade of Marilyn Monroe who, with her blotched foundation, is joined on stage by all of her fans.

Through a clever structure, the connections between scenes, often playing with British-Indian identities and an energy somewhere between Bollywood and The Mighty Boosh, slowly become clear and reveal an exciting new form pitched somewhere between character-based stand-up and a play.

A bold final routine with a killer punchline creates an audacious but not entirely smooth change of tone. The story feels like it could be developed more, but leaving the stage like a comet, Nalini Sharma is heading for the stars.

Sally Stott

Fit Ye Sayin’ Quine ***

Greenside Infirmary Street - Sprout Studio until 26 August

Performed in an intimate space that is dressed in delicate soft drapes and fairy lights, Ailsa Shepherd’s one-woman show is a gentle and comforting hour of storytelling.

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The play is about a young woman named Ava, who visits her grandmother’s cottage in Scotland and reminisces on their relationship. As Ava takes a closer look at a mythical tapestry hanging on the wall, it surprisingly comes to life. Mixing folklore, memory and reality, Shepherd transforms into various mythical beings such as the goddess Beira and tells tales of magical creatures from selkies to mischievous fairies.

Filled with poetic language and Burns songs - sung with a controlled softness - the beauty of Scotland and its rich mythical history comes through. This is also done quite well through Shepherd's blend of Scots, Doric and English language. The odd word may not be understood but the sense still remains.

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What works best is Shepherd’s ability to give the audience a real sense of the bond shared between grandmother and granddaughter, which many will relate to. However, the tone of the piece does feel a little one note and more defined characterisations and the inclusion of different emotions would strengthen it.

Suzanne O’Brien

Strays *

theSpace on the Mile (Venue 39) until 25 August

Night of the Living Neds might be a better title for Eleanor McMahon’s new piece, a Scottish kitchen sink zombie play that self-identifies as a “dark comedy” even though it’s quite aggressively unamusing.

One year into the apocalypse and four men shelter together for protection from “the infected”. Food is scarce - although, hearteningly, Tennent’s Brewery seems to be still ticking over - and some unknown intruder is stealing the guys’ supplies.

It’s flatly performed - the on-stage violence is a really bad idea - and insufficiently characterised; the four men are pretty interchangeable aside from Logan, who’s sensitive because he misses his mum. It’s a relentlessly dull experience.

Rory Ford