Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: The Silent Treatment | The Poetical Life of Philomena McGuinness | The Man Who Thought He Knew Too Much | Eve: All About Her | Confetti | Closure
Our latest round-up of theatre reviews includes a moving solo show about recovering one’s voice, and an ingeniously staged Hitchcockian thriller. Words by Rory Ford, David Hepburn, Fergus Morgan, David Pollock, Fiona Shepherd and Ben Walters.
The Silent Treatment ****
Summerhall (Anatomy Lecture Theatre) (Venue 26)
“Good singers don’t lose their voices,” Sarah-Louise Young reports at the start of this complex, rich and moving autobiographical solo show. The fact that this exceptional and acclaimed performer has suffered from bouts of vocal incapacity throughout her career has therefore been experienced as something of a shameful secret.
For there are also times, we learn, when supposedly good singers don’t use their voices – they refrain from telling stories such as this, for instance, in case it harms their career prospects. And this resonates with how all of us – especially women – are expected to keep quiet about other kinds of pain and trauma for the sake of business as usual.
The Silent Treatment describes how, after years of managing voice loss, Young finally sought a decisive resolution through therapy and surgery – her challenges were both physical and psychological. This process unfolds through a playful mixture of medical explanation, industry talk, metaphorical fable and personal experience, some light-hearted, some grave.
We meet a swashbuckling consultant physician and a cod-Viennese analyst, and go on a Fantastic Voyage-style odyssey through the organs. The myth of the little mermaid proves deeply resonant too. This is all nicely complemented by adriot puppetry work involving fabric, props and shadows.
The show aptly showcases Young’s own vocal brilliance and technical control through speech, song and clever use of voiceover. (In her other show at this year’s Fringe, she impressively channels Kate Bush.) It also mobilises other forms of vocal expression, from tongue-twisting warm-ups to phone-sex-line techniques, and forms of the unspoken, from non-disclosure agreements to psychological repression.
Ultimately, The Silent Treatment invites us to question the moral imperatives around which kinds of vocalisation are expected and which are taboo, particularly for women and girls. Sometimes, it insists, “there is a silence worth listening to”. Ben Walters
Until 28 August
The Poetical Life of Philomena McGuinness ***
Greenside @ Infirmary Street (Venue 236)
“I didn't see a dead body until I was 17,” says young Irish woman Philomena McGuinness in this monologue piece by writer and director Joshua King. “In my family I was a late bloomer.”
Born just after the First World War, there’s a certain innocence and naivety to Philomena, as performed by Jasmin Gleeson. She aspires to become a poet, even though she’s never written a poem in her life, yet these times are tough and artistic dreams aren’t viable career options for young women. She goes into nursing instead, and when the Second World War arrives is one of the many Irish nurses who went to war on the side of the Allies.
That there were a large contingent of volunteers from neutral Ireland for the Allied fight is an interesting historical backdrop to the tale, but really Gleeson and King have created a poised and confident character piece around their wide-eyed but increasingly mature lead.
There’s a Call the Midwife air to the story of Philomena’s growth from country girl to experienced veteran, cemented by Gleeson’s poised and confident dramatic performance (she has a stand-up show elsewhere on the Fringe), and the thematic sense that real artistic growth often comes only through bitter lived experience. David Pollock
Until 20 August
The Man Who Thought He Knew Too Much ****
Pleasance Dome (Venue 23)
Voloz Collective are making their Edinburgh Festival Fringe debut with this Hitchcockian thriller told in cinematic style using little more than four talented performers (who also wrote, produced and directed the show), a musician, a couple of chairs and a handful of props.
It tells the pleasingly-convoluted tale of Roger, a French copywriter who lives a peaceful life in 1960s New York, until an explosion at his office takes him on a globetrotting adventure to track down the sinister organisation that seems intent on taking his life.
Travelling on planes, boats, horses, rockets and motorbikes, the first half alone takes in the USA, Paris, London and Siberia, as the miles rack up as quickly as the laughs and the many, many plot contrivances.
This is physical theatre at its most immaculate - every tumble, mime and line delivered with precision - creating a widescreen world that the Jack Dome’s tiny stage can barely contain. It is a world where the magic comes from the most mundane objects, newspapers becoming a flock of birds, a scrap of fabric transforming into a cat, and coffee cups appearing and disappearing on command.
As Roger, Paul Lofferon takes on the majority of the Chaplinesque acrobatic pratfalls, leaving the other three cast members - Olivia Zerphy, Emily Wheatman and Sam Rayner - to ebb and flow around him, playing numerous characters, as well as an array of cleverly-conceived inanimate objects. Combining their bodies to create everything from an elevator to a Mission Impossible-style laser security system, the fact that they are all instantly recognisable is tribute to their skills.
The genres used are as fluid as the performers' movements, with a sudden unexpected switch to classic Western livening things up just as the breakneck action starts to flag, before wrapping up with a wild final twist impossible to predict (don’t even bother trying). David Hepburn
Until 29 August
Eve: All About Her **
Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose (Venue 24)
Keith Ramsay is a mighty singer and a snappy dresser, looking good in an outsize suit, like a creature from old Hollywood, as he packs sheer dramatic power in his renditions of Judy Garland standards.
The actor and cabaret performer has time for Liza M too, but his ultimate gay icon is Eve Harrington, the scheming ingénue character played by Anne Baxter in All About Eve, who he channels in this OTT evocation of queer cultural touchstones which encompasses a blizzard of references from Twelfth Night to Madonna without drawing the breath needed for the listener to keep up. Fiona Shepherd
Until 28 August
Assembly George Square (Venue 9)
Confetti, the new solo show from Will Jackson and his Birmingham-based company Quick Duck Theatre, puts the gay best friend – a character regularly relegated to the role of comedy sidekick – slap bang centre-stage, and has a lot of fun in doing so. It is a frothy and flamboyant hour, a gleeful, glittery one-man rom-com.
As the audience files in, they are handed gift bags containing party poppers, sherbet sweets and sparkly hats. This is Helen’s hen-do, Jackson explains, dressed in a jazzy pink jacket, and he is Felix, Helen’s closest friend, bride’s mate – as opposed to bride’s maid – and wedding planner extraordinaire.
The rest of the show follows Felix during the week before the wedding, centring on his secret, whirlwind romance with the best man Dan. It is an entertaining and amusing story, full of classic rom-com capers, and Jackson is an energetic performer tells it with an infectious exuberance and an ironic flounce.
Director Hannah Birkin bathes him in blue light and the occasional shower of sparkle, courtesy of a confetti cannon, and the result is a lively, likeable show that – even if it does not really rewrite the rom-com rulebook – puts an often overlooked man in the main role. Fergus Morgan
Until 28 August
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)
What’s the difference between a victim and a liar? It all depends on who you tell. Faye Draper’s pointedly nasty three-hander is a refreshingly loud blast of rage. There’s a real senes of unease to this right from the very beginning and it proves to be well-earned.
Mia (Draper) invites Laura (the wonderfully named Maz Hedgehog) and her partner Alex (Conor Burns) to dinner. Alex has never met Mia - or maybe he has - it’s no spoiler to say that no-one in this is entirely who they first appear. The initial theatricality of the performances slip away, accents change, identities blur and then are thrown into sharp relief.
This is a well-written and tightly constructed drama pacily directed by Hedgehog. All the performances are good but Draper’s Mia is damn near iconic, a flame-haired female avenger.
This is strong stuff that handles serious issues like a contemporary Jacobean revenge tragedy. It can be tough to stage convincing violence but there’s moments here that should make anyone flinch. This takes a lot of risks - the up-tempo pop soundtrack is a particularly bold touch - but largely succeeds. Rory Ford
Until 29 August