Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: Ruckus | Crossing the Void | Blodlina: The Viking Musical | We Are Traffic: An Uber Adventure | We Are What We Overcome
A compelling solo show that examines coercive control and a raucous musical featuring some mighty Viking warrior women (and Thor on bass) are just some of the highlights in our latest Fringe theatre round-up. Reviews by Susan Mansfield, Ariane Branigan, Fiona Shepherd, Rory Ford and Andrew Eaton-Lewis
Summerhall (Venue 26), until 28 August (not 22)
A screen on the wall counts down the days, starting with day 824, the day Lou met Ryan, a man so “disgustingly nice” that they swiftly moved in together and started a new life in a new city. Even when there are no clouds on the horizon, the countdown is ominous, making us alert to signs we might not otherwise detect. Lou certainly doesn’t see them. A bubbly primary school teacher with her life in front of her, she’s just getting on with being happy. But why does Ryan order for her at dinner, why is he paying their rent, why does she have to keep her location live on her phone at all times, and why are all the doors locked?
Jenna Fincken’s one-woman play about coercive control – from theatre company Wildcard, who created the 2019 hit Electrolyte – beautifully balances on the edge of uncomfortable as Lou carries on, oblivious to the danger signs that we, the audience, are spotting. Still, we hope we might be wrong. When Lou challenges Ryan, he responds with apologies and candlelight. Surely he’s a nice guy after all?
Fincken does much more than raise awareness of what coercive control is. By keen observation, and by the quality of her writing and performance, she brings the subject to life through her characters. Lou is lively and funny, not afraid to speak her mind, trained (as she admits) to recognise the same danger signs in her pupils at school, yet she is trapped before she knows it. If she can be, surely anyone can. But it’s also about love, and how the controlling partner can pivot swiftly to become the needy one who says they can’t do without you, which is itself a powerful drug. Fincken’s play explores all these complexities in a compelling theatrical package. Susan Mansfield
Crossing the Void ****
theSpace on the Mile (Venue 39), until 26 August (not 17, 19, 21, 23, 25)
A messy, vulnerable exploration of grief which pulls no punches, Crossing the Void follows the tense reunion of five women after the suicide of their friend Hannah a year previously. Structured loosely around a séance the friends are holding in an attempt to move on, we are immediately shown the different ways in which each person is trying – and failing – to process their grief: Charlie cries at pub quizzes; Abby has moved to London to escape it all; Finn tries to act as if nothing’s happened.
Sally MacAlister’s script creates a convincing group dynamic from the very start. Although we barely know anything about Hannah, the impact of her death is palpable in the strained conversations between her sister and best friends. Most importantly, it is entirely believable that these women were once inseparable. Long, uncomfortable silences are punctuated by moments of uncertain humour, as the women wonder whether Hannah would rather they have mimosas or Monster energy drink in her memory. As the show progresses, however, these interactions devolve into increasingly fraught confrontations. Although the ghostly occurrences widen the fissures in their relationships, it is clear they were present from the very start.
Crossing the Void uses the supernatural sparingly, and to good effect. While there are a few semi-jump scares, it is clear that Hannah’s friends are haunted by their own guilt and regret much more than they are haunted by her. The show ends on a raw, unfinished note. Much like the grief it portrays so effectively, there are no easy resolutions or answers for these five broken people. Ariane Branigan
Blodlina: The Viking Musical ***
Pleasance Dome (Venue 23), until 29 August (not 24)
The market for Viking musicals (tally to date: this one) is looking healthy given the queues to see Blodlina, a new Nordic extravaganza straight out of Colchester and debuting in the suitably regal King Dome at the Pleasance. Blodlina (meaning “bloodlines”), tells a standard saga of a tribal tussle for power following the death of King Ove. But this time the antagonists are female warriors – his daughters Magnhild and Ingrid – whose serious sibling rivalry is undercut by the comedy double act of Thor and Loki, on bass and rhythm guitar respectively.
The soundtrack to this game of thrones could only ever be hard rock, amplified to an unhelpful degree at times – a sisterly sword battle set to a prog rock backing requires the actors to fight against the music as much as each other. Stock characters abound: the power-hungry warrior from a neighbouring territory (and his wet lettuce son), knuckle-dragging commoners and a simple farmer love interest. Best of all is the goddess Frigga, who ye shall know by her silvery wing things and rock chick attitude, proclaiming “mother Frigga, I’m the mother figure” in a groovy little number with Jesus Christ Superstar-style irreverence. Fiona Shepherd
We Are Traffic: An Uber Adventure ***
Assembly Rooms (Venue 20), until 28 August
An enjoyably laid-back mixture of the personal and the political, Jonathan Tipton Meyers’s journey through the gig economy is a trip worth taking. A genuinely charming presence, Meyers lost his internet marketing business, his girlfriend and subsequently his sense of identity in quick succession. Struggling to make a buck, the arrival of Uber in Los Angeles in 2011 throws him a lifeline and much of his monologue is a collection of stories about various rides. Some of the tales are interesting, some wouldn’t seem that interesting even if they happened to you but they’re all entertainingly told and helpfully illustrated by photos and footage that help you picture the passengers and get to grips with the geography of LA. An experienced actor and filmmaker, Meyers is a remarkably relaxed performer and so easy to warm to that the passage about the death of his relationship may break your heart just a little. Slickly directed by Harry Kakatsakis, this is a remarkably smooth ride although the controlled frenzy of its final moments where Meyers sums up the overriding points of the show are somewhat at odds with the easygoing nature of the rest of it. Rory Ford
We Are What We Overcome **
theSpace @ Symposium Hall (Venue 43), until 27 August
A man opening up about his mental health is to be commended, and Matt McGuinness does it with charm, humility and gentle wit. It’s an old joke that doing the Fringe is cheaper than therapy, but McGuinness has actually done the maths and can tell you the price difference. His show has jokes, storytelling (a nicely written sequence about Antony Gormley’s beach statues in Merseyside is a standout) and he’s a gifted songwriter too, with a voice and style reminiscent of Edwyn Collins. What it lacks is a clear focus or direction, for a theatre show at least; it’s a series of anecdotes rather than a story. Andrew Eaton-Lewis