Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: Joshua (and Me) | I Feel the Need | Swallowed | Musclebound | The Tragic-Comedy of Things | What Broke David Lynch?

Our latest round of theatre reviews is led by a compassionate semi-autobiographical play about caring for someone with autism. Words by Sally Stott, Rory Ford and Ariane Branigan.

Joshua (and Me) ****

Pleasance Dome (Venue 23)

Most of us need some kind of structure in our lives, but what happens when what we require clashes with what others need? This is the dilemma running through Rachel Hammond’s solo-performed show that follows young Hannah, as she grows up with an older autistic brother, Joshua, and their fellow sibling Ben, each of whom has their own sometimes contrasting demands.

Against a Lego-filled backdrop of Blackpool in the 1990s, at a time when autism was less widely discussed, Hannah’s mother takes a trip with the holiday-averse Joshua to America to “understand his world”. It’s a place that Hannah defines with an endlessly looping song, played on her pedals. “No music at home” it ends, and so, as she sadly clutches her saxophone, the conflict begins.

Outwardly Hannah seems to deal remarkably well with living under what may initially feel like a tyrannical regime – one that demands adherence to Joshua’s repetitive routines that she often finds frustrating but, when they’re taken away, grows to miss. As Joshua’s interests change over time, music becomes the means of his expression – loudly and repeatedly – while Hannah wonders if her musical talent will ever be heard. As the two’s relationship grows stronger over the years, the sacrifices that Hannah has made are celebrated, but this isn’t without acknowledging the loss that sometimes accompanies them.

Hammond’s semi-autobiographical, quietly compassionate play constantly navigates the balance between looking after a loved one and looking after oneself in a way that could enable us all to understand how to do this better. “You are my flyering squad,” she says to the audience at the end – demonstrating that while being a carer and putting on a show can be carried out alone, it’s also possible to ask for help. Sally Stott

Until 29 August

Joshua (and Me). PIC: Lidia Crisafulli

I Feel the Need ***

Assembly Rooms (Venue 20)

Pitched as a "cross between Fleabag and Top Gun", this enjoyable autobiographical show may well appeal to fans of both. However, it also might help if you share Loree "Rowdy" Draude's disdain for THAT Tom Cruise film - "f****g Top Gun!"

Draude was one of the U.S. navy's first female combat jet pilots. She's logged over 1600 flight hours and deployed to the Persian Gulf twice. It's an impressive CV, but winningly, she realises her story is not extraordinary - although it is unique to her. It covers everyday sexism in the military, her "future ex-husband" - a fellow fighter pilot, call sign: "Hairball" - the intricacies of operating shower heads on aircraft carriers and ultimately, self-discovery.

It's a good story told with a lot of self-deprecating humour. Some of the other characters in this are rather sketchily drawn - the unfortunate "Hairball" barely registers - but it's her story, after all. Draude’s an engaging, interesting personality and if there's a sneaking suspicion that one of the reasons behind the show was to help her embrace her hard-won single status and win her a few more first dates - well, that's just an appealingly cocky strategy that even Tom Cruise might admire. Rory Ford

Until 27 August

Swallowed **

Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose (Venue 24)

There's a nice, easy rapport between the two young performers in this new play written and directed by Frances Colin, but it is rather dull. Tom and Allie are a couple separated by a pandemic (no, not that pandemic, another one for some reason). Allie wants to move in with Tom but she cares for her ailing, hypochondriac mother who's terrified of infection, so they struggle to communicate. It's nicely played but all a bit predictably pointless as you don't imagine anyone is all that keen for a spot of pandemic nostalgia just yet. Rory Ford

Until 28 August

Musclebound ***

Assembly Roxy (Venue 139)

Rosy Carrick’s real-life one-woman journey to find someone who understands her love-turned-fetish for muscular male bodies in 1980s action films, such as Masters of the Universe and Conan the Barbarian, takes her on a Louis Theroux-style theatrical-documentary journey to meet the film’s stars, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dolph Lundgren, but also find self-acceptance beyond the straight-talking attitude towards sexuality that she’s had since first reading More! magazine.

With the kind of strict approach to running a show that wouldn’t be out of place managing a sex dungeon, paired with the solid smile of 20 years on the stage, she questions why she enjoys the high-camp homoerotic torture scenes that her heroes are regularly put through. Has a pre-occupation with seeing sex as power stopped her from finding real intimacy? What can she learn from her daughter Olive, as she embarks upon her first relationship?

With a stuffed manikin (“from a joke shop”) playing all of the men, Rosy’s determination to enjoy ‘empowered’ sex evolves into a more interesting investigation into how genuine desire can get lost in the desire to ‘perform’ and how laughter isn't the only thing that can be faked through learned behaviour. Sally Stott

Until 28 August

The Tragic-Comedy of Things ***

C ARTS | C venues | C piccolo (Venue 19)

Through the dusty stagnation of times gone by, forgotten objects emerge and evoke past memories in Neil O’Shea’s immersive one-man show, which he delivers with the polish of a BBC Radio 4 afternoon play to just me and the lady who scanned my ticket, in a new boutique café venue off Cockburn Street, who sit either sides of a large dining table. Conjuring up another, forgotten room and the past life of its ‘occupant’ through the objects left behind – dried out chocolates, plastic tubs full of coins, a clock radio – the brushstrokes of O’Shea’s smooth singsong storytelling are an absorbing antidote to the hustle bustle outside.

The ghostly owner of this once warmly occupied room might be as “worn-out” as the shoes under the bed, but this is a piece that lightly skims rather than sits in nostalgia, accepting and indeed celebrating the decay that comes from time passing. Watching a one-person show when you’re (virtually) the only audience member is always a special treat, and an impromptu post-performance chat in which the three of us – performer, staff member and reviewer – share hot chocolate and our thoughts is the kind of uniquely memorable experience that you can only get at a small Fringe venue like this. Sally Stott

Until 28 August

What Broke David Lynch? **

Greenside @ Nicholson Square (Venue 209)

There is a thin line between the enjoyably absurd and frustratingly nonsensical, especially at the Fringe; unfortunately, What Broke David Lynch? falls decidedly into the latter camp. Unless you’re already intimately familiar with the messy development of Lynch’s 1980 film The Elephant Man, the first half of the show is fairly inscrutable due to the meandering nature of both its dialogue and plot. The story does eventually become a little clearer, resulting in some enjoyable scenes with Anthony Hopkins and Sir John Gielgud as they cavort around London. However, the overall impression of What Broke David Lynch? is still that of a baffling, confused fever dream. Ariane Branigan

Until 27 August