Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: Liv Ello: SWARM | OCD Me | Hey, That’s My Wife! | SHEWOLVES | A Mighty Fall from Grace | A Rose By Any Other Name

Our latest round-up of reviews includes a perceptive plea for tolerance, an insight into the reality of OCD, and a parody of ‘50s American melodramas. Words by Rory Ford, David Hepburn, David Pollock, Fiona Shepherd and Sally Stott.

Liv Ello: SWARM ****

Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)

“We’re all flies,” says Liv Ello, dressed as a fly. “We consume shit and spread diseases – of the mind.” It’s a brilliantly unexpected starting point for a show, but with four arms held aloft and the intense stare of the most determined of bugs, the mesmerising figure before us, having just covered the front row in beer, makes it’s impossible to focus on anything else.

Liv Ello: SWARM.

The buzzing pace of the opening sequence continues, as different types of flies are amusingly linked, through their names – fruit fly, house fly, jungle fly – to the kind of contemporary attitudes, behaviours or characters that annoy and irritate, or cause more serious harm, online, in person, on the streets and in politics, from racist drunken thugs to naval gazing socialites to conservative politicians.

Powering both the show and the attitudes on show is a macho kind of energy that’s invigorating, but also, in the case of the characters, sometimes overflows into something more toxic, damaging and destructive. Ello’s clever and imaginative use of dual meanings leads to unforeseen connections between people and flies to deliver a clear – if somewhat hammered home towards the end – message of tolerance, dissecting everyday discrimination, unrecognised privilege, and asking for a kinder, nicer, less fly-eat-shit society.

A final scene in which the term ‘swarm’ is applied to both flies and human migrants sees the in-yer-face, gregarious thrill of our highly-energised fly-host replaced by sadness but also anger.

From an invigoratingly nerve-wracking clown, thrillingly balancing the line between being in and out of control, to an anarchist insect armed with statistics, to an activist poet with a message from within the world’s madness, Ello is a perspective challenging shape-shifter who’s a joy to spend an hour with and demonstrates that unlikely connections between flies and ourselves make a surprising amount of sense. Sally Stott

Until 28 August

OCD Me ****

Hill Street Theatre (Venue 41)

“Please stop saying ‘I'm a little bit OCD’,” implores the young woman before us of her audience. “That’s like saying ‘I'm a little bit pregnant’ when you’ve just got a balloon up your jumper.”

Her story is incredibly revealing about the reality of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which might well echo the superstitious tics which many of us have – this particular woman’s include doing actions in sets of four and choosing an optimal seat in a theatre for a quick fire exit – but which escalate them to obsessive, life-altering levels.

OCD, she explains, comes from the obsession with a particular train of thought and the compulsion to enact a certain behaviour which suppresses that thought for the sufferer. These thoughts can be intrusive, often sexual or violent in nature, and it’s “the fear of a million hangovers stitched together” until they’re expunged. She used to spend four to six hours a day enacting these compulsions, although after therapy that’s reduced greatly. Now it’s more like an hour.

Laura Whelan’s solo performance is gripping and physically taut, but also warm and humorous. There’s a real feeling that this is a character who has managed to learn to walk the edge of a precipice, to work hard at what’s supposedly normal by making a conscious effort to all the time. She runs the stages, repeats the same twitch and asks the audience to clap, all in four groups of four, so sixteen times, to illustrate the laborious nature of what she’s talking about.

A meta ending in which playwright and director Aisling Smith is introduced as the character’s real-life alter-ego takes us out of the play’s constructed reality just a bit, but otherwise it’s difficult to imagine a more evocative aid in understanding a debilitating condition whose name and symptoms are often taken lightly and in vain. David Pollock

Until 28 August

Hey, That's My Wife! ***

Hill Street Theatre (Venue 41)

A parody of hot-and-heavy 1950s American dramas, it’s initially hard to know what to make of this. The writing is clunky, the staging quite stiff and the lighting flat. However, all the performances are frequently very funny.

Two Madison Avenue advertising execs, Charlie and Roger, are about to land a big cigarette account but the boss (Ryan O’Toole) wants to have dinner and meet their wives - only thing is Charlie (Joey DeFillipis) and Roger (Matthew Ferrara) have just discovered they’ve been sleeping with each other’s wives (Espi Rivadeneira and Caroline Hanes) for the past five years.

It’s hardly surprising that this plays like an extended Saturday Night Live sketch as all the performers are up-and-coming New York comics. They’re all good, particularly when the actors indulge themselves and lean into the clunkiest parts of the scripts with mannerisms that suggest they have a friend of a friend who trained at Elia Kazan’s Actor’s Studio.

This never outstays its welcome and it’s hard not to be completely won over as things get progressively more absurd as this ends up resembling an off-off-Broadway Mel Brooks spoof. Rory Ford

Until 28 August


Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)

Prim, serious Louise is resolutely committed to “the Greta thing”, even braiding her hair in the same style as Greta Thunberg. Her shy yet enthusiastic classmate Priya, meanwhile, can only see two possible futures – on benefits or on Love Island.

The Derby schoolgirls may hail from different backgrounds but they have family discord in common and forge an us-against-the-world bond at an impromptu sleepover, which escalates into an outward-bound crusade as the newly christened Shewolves.

Sarah Middleton’s comic play is a likeable and energetically performed tale of friendship forged, broken and mended, and a celebration of adolescent activism set to a rocking riot grrrl soundtrack. Like a teenage Thelma and Louise, the dynamic duo recognise what they are running from more readily than what they are aiming for, and their expedition quickly unravels in uproarious fashion.

The Insta happy-ever-after is a little too neatly tied up but serves as a positive rallying cry for outsider teens who will find much that resonates, from the sense of feeling invisible in a loud world to the desire to bite back against an adult order which, in Thunberg’s own words, has stolen their dreams. Fiona Shepherd

Until 29 August

A Mighty Fall From Grace ***

theSpace on North Bridge (Venue 36)

It’s 2004 and the Bradford Bulls are the best rugby league team on the planet, while superfan Andy seems to have the word at his feet - 19-years-old, dating the best looking girl from school, and with a plum job in sales. Fast-forward eight years and both are struggling, with the team filing for administration and their supporter relegated to a badly-paid security job and a failing relationship.

“The only way is up”, he repeatedly tells himself, but it soon becomes clear that this is not the case.

This seemingly symbiotic relationship between club and fan is the subject of this hour-long monologue, written and performed with real passion and humour by Jake Thompson. As the character see his his life continue to spiral out of control and into criminality he is diagnosed with depression and schizophrenia, making him understand that his fortunes need not be married to tries, penalties and promotion campaigns.

The sprawling timeline of over 15 years of plot and sporting complexity means that the performance feels rushed, particularly the sections relating to mental illness, but there’s no doubting the importance of taking on these often taboo subjects, particularly from a resolutely working class perspective. David Hepburn

Until 27 August

A Rose by Any Other Name ***

Paradise in The Vault (Venue 29)

Every Edinburgh Fringe needs a one-person show about Shakespeare, and Rosemary Loughlin’s fascinating real-life journey to investigate the origins of Britain’s most famous playwright’s work, fuelled by the (Oxfordian) theory that he was actually the earl Edward de Vere, is beautifully performed, genuinely insightful and full of interesting new research, carried out between the UK and Italy. It really deserves a bigger audience than just me, Justin Hay from My Own Private Shakespeare, and his friend.

With the precision of her training as a lawyer and polish as an actress picked up during what sounds like a particularly intense training course back home in Ireland, Loughlin finds new connections between Shakespearian scenes – which she performs extracts from – and de Vere’s life, times and associates. The theory might still be up for debate, but it’s a fascinating journey through time, place and family history – including her own.

With a running time of nearly two hours (with an interval), taking a chance on such a piece at a festival dominated by one-hour shows might seem a bit bold, but Loughlin’s skill as a performer and storyteller maintains the intrigue of a well-put together piece of documentary theatre that would also make a great television series. Sally Stott

Until 28 August