Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: Sensuous Governing | Dough | The Serpent's Tooth | Garry Bonds’ Balanced Breakfasts | Welcome to The Big Show

In our latest round-up of Fringe theatre reviews, you’ll find an otherwordly, immersive panacea, an estranged mother and grandmother, and a reformed stand-up comedian.

Sensuous Governing ****

Summerhall @ Danish Consulate (Venue 345) until 20 August

On the wide boulevards of Edinburgh’s West End, far from the festival’s frantic heart, a veiled woman rings a bell. Follow them and you’ll arrive on the doorstep of a sensuous otherworld, filled with trickling water, opulent scents and wordless song. Take their hand, and you might just find your Poetic Self. Utterly immersive and surprisingly touching, this performance by Danish company Sisters Hope is a masterclass in reality-bending theatre.

In order to enter the aesthetic dimension, our submission is first required. A blindfold is placed over the eyes, and for almost the entirety of the visit, we are reliant upon the Sisters’ gentle hands for guidance. This is the first gift that the show presents to us; the pleasure of being governed, of putting your trust in someone else. Robbed of our sight, the other senses take on newer, sharper forms; our touch in particular gains a heightened immediacy, as we cling to banisters and feel along walls.

Soon, however, the ponderous, deliberate pace of proceeding begins its meditative effect, like being immersed into a warm ocean of darkness. To reveal more would be to spoil the effect of the next two hours; needless to say, the experience is akin to that of a sound bath in an Aesop, but far more gratifying.

And when the moment comes to confront our Poetic Selves, something unexpected does make itself felt: a sense of being both more optimistic about what could be, and also more at peace with the world as it is. It’s worth questioning whether Sensuous Governing might have the same impact when staged beyond the Edinburgh festivals – its sedate rituals and sense of intimacy are an ideal panacea to the atomised chaos happening in town. Either way, departing from its cloisters was done with genuine regret.

Deborah Chu

Sensuous Governing (Photo Copyright Diana Lindhardt)Sensuous Governing (Photo Copyright Diana Lindhardt)
Sensuous Governing (Photo Copyright Diana Lindhardt)

Dough ***

Pleasance Dome (Venue 23) until 28 August

The course of man’s life is plotted through his relationship with money in this play by French writer and director David Lescot, translated by Christopher Campbell and staged by a trio of actors from New York.

It’s funny, slick and fast-moving. Lescot’s everyman figure (Zach Lusk) starts life with 2,000 Francs, a gift from his grandmother. He collects more from the tooth fairy, then squanders his lunch money at the pinball machine.

Later, he is a broke young father, gets scammed, gets into debt, dates a woman much wealthier than he is. Eventually, he reaches a point when money matters less, possibly because he has more of it. Matthew Brown and Hannah Mitchell play all the other parts, from his seven-year-older to the man who sells him two fake suede coats.

The show’s relentless pace encourages big, cartoony acting and results in a lack of depth. Major life choices and relationships whizz past and so, too, does the opportunity to say anything meaningful about money: the economic systems which feed some and entraps others; its relationship to power, politics, society. For a show about money, Dough gives us an exhaustive rundown of one man’s dosh, but little more.

Susan Mansfield

The Serpent's Tooth ****

Paradise in The Vault (Venue 29) until 19 August

“You wake up one morning wanting to see them and you can’t”. Heather Dunmore’s moving and entertaining play, about a woman whose daughter has ceased all contact with her and is preventing her from seeing her granddaughter, raises a subject not often see on stage or talked about anywhere else.

Apparently, it’s a larger problem than you’d think, with an interview in the programme, with the Bristol Grandparents Support Group, describing how it’s estimated to be experienced by over two million grandparents. Not that Dunmore’s writing ever lets the issues steal the show from the characters here – cagey, brittle grandparent Kate, just about holding things together, her newly found stoic long-lost older sister, Bev, and their mutual acquittance-turned-friend Liz who, unlike the two of them, is swamped in children and grandchildren to a point where she barely has time for a life of her own.

With the slick yet warm and comforting dialogue of a BBC Radio 4 afternoon play, peppered with humorous incidental events and everyday interruptions, the polished performers, who have a long list of credits, take us from the nursery where Kate is about to finish work, to revelations in a busy café, to a final confrontation on a ‘wild swimming’ trip, as Bev attempts to help a reluctant Liz come to terms with the fact that daughter her Ellen doesn’t look like she’s going to be in contact any time soon.

It might feel more soap-like than Shakespearian at times, despite its nods to King Lear, but it’s emotionally affecting stuff, which revolves around female characters at a time in their lives not often explored at the Fringe and that leaves more than one audience member with a tear in the eye at the end, as much connected to newfound friendships that the women have gained as to what they have lost elsewhere.

Sally Stott

Garry Bonds’ Balanced Breakfasts ***

Greenside @ Nicolson Square (Venue 209) until 25 August

There’s a winning sense of madcap adventure to this eccentric time-travelling comedy play from writer Rishi Sharma and directors Rory Clarke and William Want. It stars Owen Igiehon as ordinary American guy Ned Burger, who still sadly pores over recordings of his college baseball career, when he screwed up his draft try-out on the same day that Garry Bonds (Coby O’Brien) – now the retiring greatest player in the world, inspired apparently in name only by real-life legend Barry Bonds – blew his confidence with a throwaway remark and then went on to grab selectors’ attention.

Now Ned is visited by the ghost of baseball great Lou Gehrig (Gigi Jacques), who gives him the opportunity to go back to that fateful draft day in the 1990s and set things right. Ned, full of hopes and dreams for a better life, takes him up on the offer, but when he arrives there late, the only plan he can come up with is to savagely batter Garry – represented by a heap of hot dog buns – to death. It’s rough and not always perfect, but worth recommending for some good comedic performances, a handful of very funny jokes and scenarios, and the real pathos of Gehrig, like Ned, mourning his own greatness being lost in Babe Ruth’s shadow.

David Pollock

Welcome to The Big Show ****

Summerhall (Venue 26) until 27 August

Gara Lonning describes himself as ‘a reformed stand-up comedian’. But if Welcome to The Big Show is anything to go by, he’s still got a lot of reforming to do. The laughs come thick and fast as soon as he enters the stage, and although this incredibly enjoyable show takes a number of twists and turns, rarely do we stop smiling. Mostly, it’s at the things he says but sometimes it’s in warm response to the dance routines that pop up here and there with seeming disconnection.

Now based in New York, but raised in the American Mid-West, Lonning shares aspects of his life so far. The wrestling-obsessed father who also introduced him to ‘80s movies, the rivalry with his twin brother, his love of dance and – briefly – his transition from female to male. As a performer, Lonning has the confidence of a seasoned stand-up (despite his relative youth), interacting with the audience with ease and making it clear we’re in safe hands. But there’s a reason this show is labelled as theatre, rather than comedy, and there’s a sense of pathos running through the piece that takes Lonning straight to our hearts.

There’s also a tongue-in-cheek irony to the show’s title, as there are no showy theatrics here, just Lonning, a microphone and a small table with a cup. A setting so intimate, that despite being aware of the laughter around you, you feel like you and Lonning are the only ones in the room.

The dance routines when they come, are competent and highly watchable, but just the right side of slick – any better and they’d take the edge off Lonning’s charm. An hour in his company is one of life’s good things. Go treat yourself.

Kelly Apter