Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: SK Shlomo: Breathe – The Play That Becomes a Rave | Sandcastles | SAY IF IT'S NOT OKAY | Cake and Violence | Dear Little Loz

Be prepared for beatboxing star and Fringe regular SK Shlomo to move both your heart and your feet with the deeply personal play that becomes a rave – the standout show among our latest round-up of theatre reviews. Words by David Pollock, Joyce McMillan and Sally Stott.
SK Shlomo. Pic: Nathan Gallagher.SK Shlomo. Pic: Nathan Gallagher.
SK Shlomo. Pic: Nathan Gallagher.

SK Shlomo: Breathe – The Play That Becomes a Rave ****

Pleasance Dome (Venue 23), until 28 August

Beatboxing star and Fringe regular SK Shlomo has the kind of career in music that most other artists might be content with, and a set of experiences which include Pyramid Stage appearances at the Glastonbury Festival alongside artists like Ed Sheeran. Yet by the time they hit their thirties, they were living in a rural village, married with a child and supposedly among people with whom they had nothing in common. Their anxiety and depression worsened, and they reached a point at which there seemed no way out of these feelings.

This is the most personal of all Shlomo's varied and inventive shows at the Fringe, and as they inform their audience at the beginning, they only need three tools to tell it: their voice; their homemade sampling sequencer named 'The Beast', a rumbling, glowing machine from which additional rhythms which their dynamic vocal talent just isn't capable of layering emerge; and a Mi.Mu glove, a device created by the musician Imogen Heap, which allows Shlomo to trigger the Beast with simple hand gestures.

Recounted as a piece of storytelling theatre, Shlomo’s life tale is brisk and involving, and they recount the highs alongside the obstacles of life in ways which reveal and illuminate a very personal path. They subsume their family's vibrant Iraqi-Jewish heritage at school to fit in, their light skin allowing them to become just Simon Khan in the eyes of prejudiced teachers and street corner bullies. Their ADHD is referenced within and outside the text, and part of their eventual awakening involves an acceptance of their own non-binary identity.

Breathe is subtitled The Play That Becomes a Rave, and it really does; be prepared to all get up together. A deeply personal exploration at first, it becomes a joyful work about coming together to find shared meaning and purpose in music, even when at first you think you have nothing in common. David Pollock

Sandcastles ***

Assembly Rooms (Venue 20), until 27 August

Friendship is, and always has been, a vital subject for young writers on the Edinburgh Fringe; perhaps because they are often themselves navigating the transition between those student days when friends often become an alternative family, and a new phase in which some of those seemingly unbreakable friendships may crumble, under the pressures of adult life.

In Steven McMahon’s heartfelt Fringe debut play Sandcastles - thoughtfully directed by Kolbrun Bjort Sigfusdottir for Brite Productions - Beth and Hannah are two women in their twenties who have been friends since early childhood, when they met in the local play-park.

Their relationship falters, though, when Beth suddenly announces that she is moving to New York, to take up a new job. Hannah is too shocked to offer immediate heartfelt congratulations, Beth is offended; and although they patch things up, and Hannah plans a visit to New York, fate cruelly intervenes, in a way foreshadowed by strange lists of dates and locations that Hannah obsessively repeats, as the show begins.

There’s something about the extreme intensity of Beth and Hannah’s relationship that never seems fully explained in McMahon’s play, despite strong and thoughtful performances from Marion Geoffray and Sarah Miele; they seem to have no parents, no partners, no other friends, and a fiercely argumentative focus on each other that never quite rings true. Yet Sandcastles remains a vivid experience, brief, passionate and tightly focussed on the complexities of a friendship cruelly lost; and it promises better things to come, from this writing and directing team. Joyce McMillan


Greenside @ Infirmary Street (Venue 236), Until 27 August

“Hi,” she says with the comforting voice of someone who’s had a year in psychotherapy, at the start of what turns out to be a surprisingly upbeat exploration of grief and learning to say when things aren’t “okay”. A quietly courageous presence, writer/ performer Angela Johnson tells us that when she was seven, her mother died and after this awful event, she stopped talking. Now, years later, she is having therapy in a place she describes “like John Lewis on a Monday morning”, where there’s always a staff member ready to help, but – in a surprising twist – also her mother, who watches over her from an idiosyncratic afterlife, playfully commenting on Angela’s lipstick and life choices, joined by an array of other characters who have “passed on”, from famous figures such as Nora Ephron to an unappreciative ex who split up with Angela when he decided she wasn’t “symmetrical” enough.

Powered by Johnson’s good humour, we gain well observed and warmly delivered insights into her life, with lots of pertinent reminders on our right to have a voice, even when it’s sometimes easier not to. A personal show with bigger points to make, it finds a lot of joy in the unlikeliest of places. Sally Stott

Cake and Violence ***

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53), until 27 August

She plays a giant cake like the piano and has the wry, understated delivery of an offbeat character in an independent American film. If you, somehow, haven’t realised that you’re at the Edinburgh Fringe, Natalie ‘Nat’ Griffen’s one-woman show will certainly remind you. A kitchen knife, which she occasionally wields, along with a man in an apron, who brings out more sponge-based treats, only adds to the effect. But at the centre of the crumbs and cream, which increasingly cover the stage, is a story of Nat’s at times difficult relationship with food and herself, which she tells through quirky scenes, sketches and her deliciously dry (unlike the cake) monologues.

Describing feeling disconnected from her body, only able to feel if it involves "cake and violence", Griffen creates an unusually imaginative and entertaining exploration of sensory stimulation. The late-night slot is perfectly suited to her mellow delivery – a refreshing respite from the frantic drinking, fliering and performances going on elsewhere. What makes us feel is a question that’s left open-ended and while the piece may not have any answers, Nat – wonderfully laid back as she takes her bow – seems happy with that, and because she’s so cool, so does everyone else. Sally Stott

Dear Little Loz ***

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53), until 27 August

She’s a laugh, “a proper crack” she tells us, but also “a cheeky bitch and a flirt.” Torn between what’s an appropriate level of “slutty” for a date with a man she’s never met, Loz is also a year eight schoolgirl living in Blackpool, equally as committed to winning the year heads’ egg and spoon race, which she hopes her Dad will come and watch. A sparkling if not entirely blended mix of contradictions, she rattles through her wryly observed thoughts, ideas and exchanges – from the sticky sleaze of the dancefloor to navigating her father’s depression at home – with great humour, perception and charm, powered by the rolling momentum of writer/ performer Lauren-Nicole Maye’s sparkling dialogue.

“No boy who likes you will ever leave you,” her soon-to-be absent dad says, but what might sound like good advice seems less so as Loz latches on to the dull creep she meets on her date, painfully speculating over whether he might be “the one”. Forced to complete her school race alone, she decides that some men deserve her detachment rather than unconditional love. It’s an idea that could be developed more, but Maye’s writing and performance is a theatrical force that shows a huge amount of promise. Sally Stott