Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: You’re Safe Til 2024: Deep History | Admiral | Our Boy | She/Her | Oedipus Electronica | War of the Worlds (On a Budget) | Cecil Beaton's Diaries | Fata Morgana | An Audience With Milly-Liu
With its fresh perspective on climate change, You’re Safe Til 2024: Deep History makes us listen in a new way. HG Wells meets Alan Partridge in War of the Worlds (On a Budget), while An Audience With Milly-Liu is an all-out late-night oddity not for the easily offended. Reviews by Susan Mansfield, Rory Ford, Fiona Shepherd, Katie Hawthorne and Sally Stott.
You’re Safe Til 2024: Deep History ****
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33), until 29 August
It’s December 2019, and Australian theatre maker David Finnigan is in London watching his country suffer the worst bush fires in recorded history. His dad, a climate scientist, in hospital with a spinal infection, asks him to help draft a paper on how the lessons of deep history can help us cope with climate change. And his best friend Jack is in a beach house in New South Wales with his three children, trying to escape the flames.
From these strands – and with the addition of some improbable pop music - Finnigan weaves the second of a proposed series of six shows, each looking at a different aspect of climate change. The first, Kill Climate Deniers, was performed at the Sydney Opera House in 2019 and won the Griffin Playwrights Award.
The environment is Finnigan’s passion, and there is an unwieldy amount both of science and of history in this show which he somehow makes digestible by inventive storytelling, anecdotes from his own life and a warm, approachable tone. He imagines homo sapiens at six key moments from 75,000BC to the present in a fresh, immediate, poetic way and uses a funnel and a bag of sugar to demonstrate world population growth.
It’s hard to imagine a fresh perspective on climate change, but Finnigan finds one by looking both at the deep past and at 72 hours at the end of 2019, when ordinary Australians were forced to drive on burning highways to escape the fires. While the science is not new, and is never going to be anything less than frightening, he finds a way to make it human, drawing us in to the story he’s telling. At the end of an hour, we realise we have listened in a new way. Susan Mansfield
theSpaceTriplex (Venue 38), until 22 August
Nelson Cuthbert came to this country in 1960, aged 12, by invitation. Nicknamed ‘Admiral’ he made his home here and is now being told to leave. There’s an authentic pang of sadness to this solo show with songs by Christopher Tajah but you can’t help thinking that the Windrush generation deserves a better one. It’s awkwardly structured – remarkably it takes Admiral a full 30 minutes to introduce himself – and positively littered with songs which add very little. Tajah has a decent enough voice but by the third song it does begin to grate and each subsequent number thereafter becomes a just little more painful. Rory Ford
Our Boy **
The Royal Scots Club (Venue 241), until 20 August
Even in the calm grandeur of the Royal Scots Club, a relaxed performance of a play about the rape of an autistic teenager could be a bit of an ask. Building Blocks Collective provide a sensory synopsis to warn of raised voices and triggering content – inevitable in a story of parents at loggerheads over how best to care for 14-year-old Joe. However, Our Boy is not a heavy piece – if anything, the effect of the assault on Joe is rather too quickly wrapped up to make way for the family melodrama which is in turn neatly resolved. Fiona Shepherd
Assembly (Venue 17), until 29 August
She/Her threads together personal stories from seven disparate storytellers. It’s a vague brief, to encourage women to speak on “themes that move them”, but it results in a brave expanse of knotty themes: addiction, creativity, ambition, selfhood, sexuality, parenthood, grief. Creator and director Nicole Ansari-Cox, for instance, discusses masturbation, the loss of a parent, and Faust – all with an impressive lightness of touch.
The show originated in New York, but four new Scottish voices have been added to the cast for this Edinburgh run, including leading Scots musician Mairi Campbell, who speaks frankly about her relationship to her art. Her daughter Ada Grace Francis joins her on stage, and they sing together with moving familiarity. Edinburgh-based avant-garde musician Callie Rose Petal performs a raw, haunting ballad with an accordion, while actor Kananu Kirimi reflects, surprisingly shyly, on a life spent on stage.
She/Her creates a “sacred space”, as both Ansari-Cox and Campbell attest, and it encourages real vulnerability in its participants. Special care is taken to bring closure to each story, through music and brief glimpses of dance, and these moments feel mindful and restorative. Engaging for each storyteller’s generosity, rather than the show’s theatricality, She/Her is understated but holds gentle power. Katie Hawthorne
Oedipus Electronica **
Pleasance (Venue 33), until 26 August
In Pecho Mama’s modernisation of the Greek classic, set in London and powered by a muscular live band, Jocasta (writer, director, and performer Mella Faye) is a playwright experiencing a traumatic miscarriage. Oedipus’ infamous catastrophes – patricide, incest, mutilation – flow from her pen as she wrestles growing paranoia into artistic output. But this reverse engineering undermines Oedipus Electronica’s tension, despite the play asking an explicitly meta question: why do we keep restaging this tragedy? Even with slick production and Ryan David Harston’s thrillingly visceral performance as Oedipus, which shakes the set’s tarnished scaffolding, Oedipus Electronica does not land on a convincing answer. Katie Hawthorne
War of the Worlds (On a Budget) ***
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53), until 27 August
It’s one man against the Martians and his cardboard set in Lamphouse Theatre’s highly original, extremely silly and loveably odd reimagining of HG Wells’ influential tale of aliens invading turn-of-the-century Britain. Armed with only a loop pedal and foam hats that frame the funny faces of all of the characters he plays – one of the most fascinating being himself – Tom Fox creates ingenious songs, sketches and scenes with the amiable, anarchic style of a jolly Footlights Revue. Parodying “self-appointed middle-class men” trying to save the world, with a chorus of manikins, he’s later joined on stage by producer Becky Owen-Fisher who veers between doing the tech, rescuing props and trying to intersperse ‘a strong female role model’ into a story that isn’t exactly known for this.
Like the Alan Partridge and Lynn of an Edinburgh Fringe, the two have a great time with the heightened story, finding a lot of fun in the uptight attitudes of bygone era Britain. In a show packs with character (and characters), Fox pays small-scale homage to Jeff Wayne’s epic 1970s musical adaptation with his one-man power anthems, while the Tom Cruise Hollywood film is perhaps best evoked by a Tripod made out of a hoover that attempts to implant itself upon his head. Sally Stott
Cecil Beaton's Diaries **
Greenside @ Nicolson Square (Venue 209), until 27 August
Some iconic – and lesser-known – pictures by the late photographer and designer, Sir Cecil Beaton are handsomely displayed here. However, this adaptation of his diaries by performer and Julie Andrews biographer Richard Stirling may prove too self-absorbed for most. It’s the sort of pleasantly waspish material that you might happily come across in a dentist’s waiting room with only an old copy of Tatler to divert you but dramatically it’s inert. Cecil himself provides his own best reviewer: “The world’s second greatest crime is being boring – the first is being a bore." Good photos, though. Rory Ford
Fata Morgana **
Pleasance at EICC (Venue 150), until 28 August
When the Velvet Underground opened their 1993 reunion tour in Edinburgh, they were heckled with the declaration that “this is Nico’s town” – their former singer, born Christa Päffgen, lived in the city for a short time in the early Eighties, though writer and actress Margherita Remotti can be forgiven for not including this period among her sketchy snapshots – fragments really – of a troubled life, woozily evoking her alleged rape as a teenager, her angst surrounding her son and her affair with Doors frontman Jim Morrison before attempting to rustle up a singalong to VU classic I’ll Be Your Mirror. Fiona Shepherd
An Audience With Milly-Liu ***
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33), until 29 August
Some shows are safe bets. Not An Audience With Milly-Liu. One-man drag about a bedraggled showbiz cat past her prime, safe to say that this absurd, grimy hour by François Pandolfo is for you or it’s not. By the time you’ve watched Milly-Liu pull down her fishnets to strain out a shit, you’ll likely have made up your mind.
Cardiff-based comedian Pandolfo plays Milly-Liu with relish, stalking the audience with threatening feline energy and demanding favours from gents in the front row. She holds court like a dishevelled grande dame, regaling the crowd with salacious scoops on the exploits of famous cats – the less said about that prick Bagpuss the better – before demurely licking lager from the floor. A graphic memoir in the guise of a celebrity meet-and-greet, the hour teases out Milly-Liu’s surreal, horrific experiences as a literal sex kitten, thrown to the wolves of Hollywood execs. Repetitive gross-out humour veers toward the predictable, but Pandolfo pulls off the show’s few tender moments with surprising vulnerability. Funniest of all is Milly-Liu’s claws-out relationship with her production staff: an all-out late-night oddity, Milly’s not giving up the limelight without a fight. Katie Hawthorne