Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: Look, No Hands | Man Shed | Rocky! | The Graveyard

A real-life tale of triumph from near-tragedy following a cycling accident, a tender study of loneliness played out in a garden shed and Stallone’s Rocky re-told as a right-wing fable are among our latest Fringe theatre round-up. Reviews by David Pollock, Rory Ford and Fiona Shepherd.

Look, No Hands ****

Summerhall (Venue 26), until 28 August (not 15, 22)

A woman named Vee cycles in London, exasperated and over-familiar with the big city streets. Suddenly, a white van pulls out – she and the driver only see one another when it’s too late, and now he’s hit her, sending her flying in slow motion towards the kerb. The next few hours are a blur of snatched, panicked voices around her, and when she fully comes to and is allowed to leave the hospital, there’s a sense of puzzling congratulation.

It turns out she’s lucky to be alive, and now she mustn’t just let her body piece itself back together, but also her fractured memory of this unimaginable, life-sapping trauma, and her very sense of who she is. Actor and writer Lila Clements has built this monologue from the seed of a cycling incident she was involved in 12 years ago, and while it’s unknown whether her own injuries were as shatteringly traumatic as those suffered by Vee, her writing is certainly baked through with a sense of realism and intimacy with the subject and its aftermath.

Vee’s journey of discovery is finely balanced between the revelatory and the amusing, from reading a police report after the fact which details just how close to death she came, to seeing herself – tastefully cropped from the neck up – on 24 Hours in A&E and being endlessly fascinated by her own emergency treatment. There were, she dimly remembers through the amnesiac haze of near-death, signs up saying that by entering A&E recording consent was given. Can her agent send them an invoice?

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It's a real tale of hard-won triumph from near-tragedy, and Clements’ performance is strong and involving in the hands of director Anna Ryder and movement director Michael Spenceley. Designer Chantal Short has placed a versatile prop bike on the stage and a gauze of bike wheels over the video backdrop, and in Vee’s early cycling memories with her mother and late father, a rich tale of being on two wheels as metaphor for personal growth and discovery is built. David Pollock

Man Shed ***

Look, No Hands. PIC: Gret Mitchell.

Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33), Until 29 August (not 10, 15, 22)

A man in his elder years paces his garden shed, shredding old newspapers and dipping into his stash of Pot Noodles (chicken and mushroom flavour) for a treat. He talks to himself, and occasionally a visiting friend named Alex, although we hear only the present character’s side of the conversation. A stranger has gently accosted him in the supermarket crisp aisle and noted from his basket that he’s shopping for one – perhaps he’d like to come and visit a ‘men’s shed’ intended for “people like you”?

The idea of a ‘man cave’, a place where men can take themselves off to pursue their innocent hobbies, is an aspirational one for many husbands or partners, but here it has become a prison. In particular, Ron Emslie’s performance of Euan Martin’s script offers a tender study of grief and loneliness, as we learn of the man’s bereavement, his companion Alex’s recent dementia and death, and his only daughter’s life in Australia.

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Director Dave Smith has drawn out the tenderness and sympathy of the story, crafting some heart-breaking moments, as when the man’s first house visit of the year is the meter-reader in March. He recounts past conversations with others, but their voices are absent rather than enacted; this leans into the point of the piece, although it also flattens the tone of it somewhat. David Pollock

Rocky! ***

ZOO Southside (Venue 82), until 20 August

Fans of Sylvester Stallone's lovable lug will find little for them in this challenging retelling of the story as a right-wing fable. Somewhere between an art installation and agitprop theatre Rocky here becomes the leader of a populist political movement rising against the "liberal well-meaning lot".

Director and playwright Tue Biering’s piece is necessarily challenging and occasionally infuriating. It's a portrait of liberal fears, peppered with racist, homophobic and misogynist jokes presumably as an attempt to understand the viewpoints of all the "Rockys" out there – or satirise liberal’s perception of them. Performed with an uncommon degree of bravery by Morten Burian it confronts us with frequently appalling imagery (oddly there are no content warnings outside the venue – there should be).

When Pasolini did this in Salo it was to illustrate what fascists were like, however this ends with essentially a political message from a "real-life Rocky" because Buering says: "we would like to challenge our audiences and give the microphone to members of the right wing which they typically do not meet in a theatre space but which they might love to hate". It's a jagged, disturbing piece that should appeal to fans of that other Danish provocateur, Lars Von Trier – everyone else should approach with extreme caution. Rory Ford

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The Graveyard ***

Greenside @ Infirmary Street (Venue 236), until 20 August

In June 1629, the Batavia, pride of the Dutch East India Company’s fleet, was wrecked off the west coast of Australia. Bankrupt apothecary-turned-merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz was the ranking officer who exploited the disaster with mutinous results.

This much is outlined in the solemn, eloquent voiceover which opens The Graveyard but this two-hander is no sober historical re-enactment, more Waiting for Godot-style blend of gallows humour, boredom, hysteria and absurdity as two of the hapless seafarers contend with their subsequent imprisonment and confront their mortality across a succession of comical vignettes which are played with devil-may-care detachment by Charlie Flynn and exasperation and desperation by Harry Higgins.

The former evokes Shakespearean clowning scenes with his droll acceptance of his fate, while the latter descends into desert hallucinations, conversing with his echo. Together, they anticipate their execution, ponder their escape route and are gradually brutalised and inured to the horror of their situation. The Graveyard drags a little in at points before going to some dark places around complicity and control, with the malevolent puppetmaster Cornelisz an arms length spectral threat revelling in the anarchy of his victims’ confinement. Fiona Shepherd