Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: Home is Not the Place | Too Fat for China | Are You Being Murdered? | Cat | Shadow Under a Setting Sun
Questions of identity and storytelling in a show set between Scotland and Kerala, plus body size in adoption, and a homage to classic TV comedy. Reviews by Susan Mansfield, David Pollock, Rory Ford and Fiona Shepherd
Home is Not the Place ****
Summerhall, until 27 August
Annie George always found herself drawn to the portrait of her grandfather, PM John, in her grandmother’s Kerala home. Although he died long before she was born, and she moved to the UK at the age of four, on visits back she always looked at him, the only other person in her family to be a writer.
In this new version of her earlier one-woman show, she goes in search of John’s story, as well as exploring her own identity as Keralan-Scottish, and her vocation as a writer and performer. Directed by Gerry Mulgrew, it has a beautiful set of suitcases, trunks and books, and atmospheric music by Niroshini Thambar.
The surviving facts about PM John are sparse. He loved books, wrote poetry, became a teacher and had several books published. In the years immediately before Partition, he championed the struggle for a united Kerala. Later, he was invited to study at theological college in Kolkata, but died in his early 40s. Most of his books and papers have been lost.
George’s search for him is, by its nature, slow. She weaves in the story of her parents, arriving in London at the end of the 1960s, and the racism they experienced, as well as the hardships faced by PM John’s widow and five children in India after his death. And she paints a fond picture of Kerala, its colours, sounds and smells.
In this way, she nails the dualism experienced by so many migrants: regretting losing their native language but determined to be fluent in English; going “home” to Kerala on holiday, and then leaving to come back “home” to the UK. While this show moves at a sedate, reflective pace, it asks important questions about what forms our identity and the importance of telling our stories. Susan Mansfield
Too Fat for China ***
Greenside @ Infirmary Street, until 20 August
The title of Phoebe Potts’s one-person memoir performance refers to the fact that, in order to adopt a child from China, the prospective parent must have an officially acceptable body mass index. She falls just outside that range, so her struggle to adopt a child continues. Experienced in what she calls the “fertility industrial complex” while trying to become pregnant herself (in 2010 she published a graphic memoir named Good Eggs on the subject), she and her husband Jeff instead resolve to adopt a child from the international community.
Potts performs before a scrolling sheet of paper printed with her own illustrative drawings and the newspaper masthead The Complainer, a visual representation of the “newsroom” inside her own head; in part, this feels like a sequel to her previous published work, in live action form. Her show discusses her guilty awareness of the fact her relative wealth and privilege is a bargaining chip in her quest.
On her quest she discovers that in her home country, the United States, the cost of adopting a child varies depending on their race, and there are international adoption brokers who treat the process as one between vendor and customer, rather than as a duty to find a home for a child who needs it. It’s a self-reflective, illuminating and amusing piece. David Pollock
Are You Being Murdered? ***
Pleasance at EICC, until 20 August
Well-travelled stage and screen actor Arthur Bostrom is unable to outrun the single television role for which he’s most famous – that of the hapless English spy Officer Crabtree, he of the comically poor French pronunciation in David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd’s hit 1980s sitcom ’Allo ’Allo. For this new one-man comedy by television writer David Semple, though, he returns to the decade before, and the set of the ’Allo ’Allo creators’ hit 1970s British sitcom Are You Being Served?.
Here, Bostrom is a jobbing extra and catty acting wannabe, who notes that “when we showbiz types insult each other it's a sign of huge affection – and I’ve received a lot of affection over the years”. He amusingly introduces us to the cast of actors, make-up people and floor managers in the story, just in time for on-set stud and newly promoted speaking part Angelo to fall down dead as he makes his great entrance.
Somewhere between a gentler Toast of London and a more gossipy Miss Marple, his character sets out to solve the murder before he gets the blame, with brief stops to consider gay representation in 1970s Brit telly and the correct way to chose a hat in the background at Grace Brothers’ department store; “brooding and impenetrable” it is. The whole thing is an amusing shaggy dog thriller for the present, and a loving homage to classic TV comedy of the past. David Pollock
RSE Theatre, until 21 August
While extremely well performed, it’s hard to warm to the main character in Connie Harris’s one-woman dark comedy – although, to be fair, you’re probably not supposed to. Catherine is a young woman with a callous attitude to caring for her near 90-year-old grandad. From her dress and emotionally undeveloped manner, you initially assume she;s a teenager. It’s only later when you discover Cat’s – very surprising – profession that you gradually realise she’s something much, much worse. This is very deliberately paced, but it certainly repays your attention. It’s like a kitchen-sink The Killer Inside Me, but unlike the narrator of Jim Thompson’s novel, Cat isn’t smart enough to recognise her true nature.
For a dark comedy, this is very light on laughs, and it’s actually quite hard to see where they’re supposed to come. It’s only really when we’re fully acquainted with just how monstrous Cat is that we’re comfortable enough to laugh at her cruel barbs – and even then, only if your sense of humour is pitch-black. Harris may be rather better than her own material, but this is a terrific performance and a quietly compelling portrait of sociopathy. Rory Ford
Shadow Under a Setting Sun **
theSpace Triplex, until 20 August
Martin Luther King was booked to address Harvard University students on Class Day in 1968. Following the shock of his assassination, his widow Coretta Scott King spoke in his place. This short play, written by Christopher Tajah and performed by Rebecca Brookman, uses that speech as a starting point to honour the great civil rights activist who emerged from the shadow of her charismatic husband to campaign for nuclear disarmament, gay rights, an end to apartheid and, not least, an official MLK holiday, as well as to credit the place of women in the civil rights movement, but functions as merely a slim taster for what deserves to be a more imaginative and in-depth celebration of a lesser-told history. Fiona Shepherd