Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: Manic Street Creature | Boy: Looking for Friends | Playing God | Unwanted Objects | Almost Instinct, Almost True | Born Under a Bad Sign

The pick of our latest theatre round-up is a sensitive and engrossing musical infused by themes of mental health. Words by Rory Ford, Katie Hawthorne, David Pollock and Fiona Shepherd.

Manic Street Creature ****

Roundabout @ Summerhall (Venue 26)

The context of this in-the-round show by actor and musician Maimuna Memon, in which she and two fellow musicians play a set of folksy confessional rock on electronic instruments, might inspire the term ‘gig theatre’ to be used. But really, it feels like full-blown musical theatre, where Memon’s delicately-woven songs infuse, interact with and become the storyline.

Manic Street Creature. PIC: Eleonora Briscoe.

This story – apparently a semi-autobiographical one – has Memon’s character Ria set out from the Lancashire of her youth to a London whose streets are hopefully paved with gold for someone with her talents. In this context, the wistful, hopeful texture of her songs and the spoken word inserts between them, in which she outlines her story almost entirely in monologue, captures a contemporary way of life beautifully.

It tells of a jobbing young creative with hopes and dreams, which are stacked against high rents, low-paid service industry work and a low-key indifference to what she does. Into her life comes Daniel, a fellow artist whose spirit and passion she greatly admires. The pair become lovers, but over time Daniel’s troubles with manic depressive illness begin to feel overwhelming.

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Memon also wrote the score for and appeared in 2018’s Fringe hit Electrolyte, another piece which was infused by themes of mental health and being young in contemporary London. Under the direction of Kirsty Patrick Ward and Bill Buckhurst here, her performance is tender and transfixing, assisted musically by Rachel Barnes and Yusuf Memon, with Barnes occasionally vocalising the role of fringe characters.

It's an engrossing piece filled with evocative, appropriate songs, but where Memon’s play feels really fresh and new is in its honest, tender and unconventional take on subjects surrounding mental illness, particularly the toll which loving someone with mental health issues can exact. It offers no easy answers, but the questions it asks are absolutely heartfelt. David Pollock

Until 28 August (not 16, 23)

Boy: Looking for Friends ***

Laughing Horse @ Bar 50 (Venue 151)

There's a charmingly ramshackle stream of consciousness quality to this family-friendly free solo show from Polish clown Piotr Sikora that could win anyone over. Boy is looking for his friend Paddington (yes, the bear). He also has an odd fixation on Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow character from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Boy has a strange fear of water - and he's also very keen on the importance of sunscreen.

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None of this should make sense but it actually (sort of) does. A lot of this is down to the sheer likability of Piotr's persona but there's also a rough and ready stuck-together-with-sellotape aspect to the props that's appealing to kids and adults alike. Children are used to adults just making up any old nonsense to keep them entertained and parents who have had to do it themselves will appreciate Piotr's ingenuity.

It is, of course, deeply silly stuff but it's effortlessly performed in a really engaging manner. It may appear to be completely off-the-cuff but sound technical cues indicate that this nonsense has actually had a lot of thought put into it. Rory Ford

Until 28 August

Playing God ***

Greenside @ Riddles Court (Venue 16)

We first meet Megan, glass of red wine in hand, sexual health test in the other, a seemingly confident and unapologetic Tinder adventuress, worshipping the “holy trinity – swipe, drink, strip’. She has a Spotify playlist for sex, which lasts 23 minutes - the optimum timeframe – and a story for every encounter. But it must be around the 23 minute mark that actor/writer Meg Pickup’s monologue switches direction. The dissection of the dates and the cringe comedy of recognition gives way to a soul-searching confessional where middle-of-the-road Meg turns the focus on to herself and questions her dating behaviour.

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Pickup handles the shift in tone seamlessly as memories of Meg’s mother take over for a good reason to be revealed abruptly. Now she really needs yet another drink. The difficult mother/daughter relationship is an enduring chestnut and while Pickup may have few new insights she writes with eloquent empathy, making comparisons with dating history, life aspirations and end-of-life rituals and nailing the conflicting feelings of a love-hate relationship Megan is not ready to let go of. Fiona Shepherd

Until 27 Aug

Unwanted Objects ***

ZOO Southside (Venue 82)

This easy listening show takes place in an old junk shop where every discarded item tells a story – or, rather, David Head tells their stories in the guise of a curious customer, while Matt Glover provides a mellow musical backdrop on acoustic guitar, playing softly undulating chords (what else?) as Head carefully lays his scene, bringing order, meaning and connection out of the jumble.

Like a hipster yard sale version of Bagpuss, treasured items reveal their back story – a ship in a bottle develops into a tale of a homesick sailor, a watchful teddy bear is passed down the generations, a chess game becomes a metaphor for its owners’ relationship, which goes from honeymoon to humdrum in a matter of months, a salt cellar divorced from its partner pepper pot is passed around establishments, some of which sound familiar from earlier tales.

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Head deftly weaves the strands together to Glover’s suitably whimsical folk pop soundtrack. Unwanted Objects is gentle, tender, a bit twee and ultimately goes meta as the customer becomes custodian of the shop and blurs with Head’s efforts to develop his authorial voice. Fiona Shepherd

Until 28 Aug

THEATRE

Almost Instinct, Almost True **

The Space @ Surgeon’s Hall (Venue 53)

Literature lecturer Monica Jones (Julia Munrow) is wasting her life by waiting, according to her protege Tommy. A frosty University is withholding her promotion and her relationship with poet Philip Larkin is growing more distant with every unkind letter. This biographical play by Rita Ippolit explores a complicated yet affectionate student-teacher dynamic in the face of Jones’ racism and alcoholism, as well as her tempestuous charm. But both characters are thinly written: working class Tommy (Teddy Walker) is purely a prop for Monica’s monologues, and without real emotion there is little connection to Larkin’s most famous line, “what will survive of us is love”. Katie Hawthorne

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Until 27 August

THEATRE

Born Under a Bad Sign **

theSpace on The Mile (Venue 39)

There's some good performances and funny moments in Donna Soto-Morettini's new footballing comedy, but they're overshadowed by dull stretches. Jez, Luke, Gary and Mark host the fan podcast for third division battlers Invercreiff F.C. (listeners: four). Grant is considering moving to Edinburgh and, even worse, Mark has started watching English football. There's a real energy in the football crowd scenes in this but it's drained away by too many long scenes of the lads sitting round a table doing their podcast - which are about as visually interesting as you can imagine. There's little in the way of plot or incident until the final moments and, coming so late in the game, it does feel rather unearned. Rory Ford

Until 26 August