Edinburgh Fringe reviews: The Half Moon | A Migrant’s Son | OTMA | Conversations We Never Had, As People We’ll Never Be | Cox and Box

There's four-star theatre aplenty in our latest bag of Fringe reviews, including an unforgettable look at the lives of four generations of Belfast women, an emotive tale about migration, and a quiet meditation on young womanhood


The Half Moon ****

Pleasance Dome (Venue 23) until 28 August

ON A simple platform stage against a burning sky, writer Alice Malseed and actor Ruby Campbell take us through the lives of four generations of Belfast women, in this new play produced with the support of the Lyric, Belfast, and the Pleasance. In wartime Belfast, teenage Emily finds that she cannot join the WRNS - the women’s navy - because she lacks a signature from her long-gone father, and the consent of the mother who raised her is not good enough.

Her daughter works her way through the Troubles, struggling for survival after her posh South Belfast employers decide it’s not safe to employ someone from the troubled Protestant area where she lives; her granddaughter escapes to Florida, only to bring her own daughter back to be raised in Belfast. And that daughter - well, she still strives for that elusive right to feel free, and to sense the possibility of a future, without leaving her home city.

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There is a deep flaw in Emily Foran’s production of Malseed’s beautifully written play, in that the style of the performance - unvarying throughout, as if all four women were the same person - makes the timeline of the story difficult to follow, even for those well acquainted with the city’s history. Its powerful atmosphere, though, and the forceful integrity of Campbell’s performance, make this a show to remember; as if the central character were a kind of time traveller, offering us unforgettable glimpses of women’s lives, through 75 years of pain, struggle and hope. Joyce McMillan


The Half MoonThe Half Moon
The Half Moon

A Migrant’s Son ****

House of Oz (Venue 73) until 26 August

Created and performed by Michaela Burger, A Migrant’s Son is a highly emotive and heartfelt production. Complete with an original score and live musical accompaniment (featuring a piano, bouzouki and choir), this cabaret maps the arrival of her great-grandfather in Adelaide pre-WW2, as he goes in search of a better life for his family.

The star character, the leading light in Burger’s family story, is her father, Luke. He is more phoenix than parent - he embodies the virtues of resilience, perseverance and love. Burger moves through the years, alighting on his time working for the family bakery as a young boy; the hard, physical labour that characterised his mid-teens spent down the opal mines in Coober Pedy, and later, how he came to pioneer a chain of discount supermarkets in Adelaide, which still stand to this day.

From a small tower of suitcases at the edge of the stage, Burger pulls costumes and props. It is a monument to the hours of travel made by her forebears - a testament to the ways in which they were made to feel like tourists in their homes. She pays tribute to her family, and to her Greek heritage, noting her forebears’ experiences of school, and their prayers in times of need - how they negotiated the language barrier, and fought collectively to make their city more accessible and inclusive, successfully creating positive, long-lasting change.

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Burger evokes the many personalities particular to her nearest and dearest; she points delightedly at family photographs; she feeds her audience with relish; she meditates on home as a place and home as a feeling. She captures, and does justice to them, beautifully - this wealth of wonderful individuals who lived, and still live, according to an ethos of hard work, and who swear by the motto: Family is everything. Josephine Balfour-Oatts


Groomed ***

Pleasance Dome (Venue 23) until 28 August

IT’S IMPOSSIBLE to overstate the courage and integrity involved in the creation of this short and modest show written and performed by award-winning director Patrick Sandford, who as a man in his Sixties, some years ago, decided to create a solo play in which he would tell the truth about the sexual abuse he suffered as a young schoolchild.

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The abuser was a much-respected schoolteacher, to whom Sandford naturally deferred; and when he became that teacher’s “favourite”, for a couple of brief years around the age of 11, he had neither the words nor the permission to tell anyone about what was happening, particularly when he knew that some other teachers were aware of it, and - in 1960’s Britain - took no action at all.

What’s agonisingly clear, from Sandford’s gently crafted monologue, is that this episode of abuse led on to a lifetime of self-loathing and sexual inhibition only now beginning to unravel, not least because of the mixed emotions the boy experienced when the teacher abruptly moved on to a “younger model”. Groomed is a simple show in structure, that rightly soars to no great heights of eloquence or theatricality; but it provokes deep thought about the worlds of pain and abuse our society once denied with such blank-eyed cruelty, in times so recent that they still burn in living memory. Joyce McMillan


OTMA ***

theSpace on the Mile (Venue 39) until 26 August

The OTMA sisters were tragically executed in June 1918 for no other reason than their family name, Romanov. Talking Shadows' production gives an imagined insight into the sombre hours before their final breath.

After being exiled due to the Bolshevik revolution, the Grand Duchesses find themselves stuck in a house in Yekaterinburg. Over the 40-minute show, they share their hopes, dreams and aspirations.

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It's initially hard to feel sympathy for them as they wallow in self-pity and complain about the restrictions they are under in a privileged way. However, what they have endured, through no fault of their own, is slowly revealed. Rebecca Vines' writing weaves the context of the Duchesses situation into the dialogue naturally.

The seriousness of their situation and the threat to their existence as a result of the Romanov dynasty, comes to light clearest through the eldest sister Olga (Martha Davey). Davey's performance is subtle and becomes increasingly more intense as Olga speaks honestly with her sisters and is honest with herself.

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The characters are well thought out and portrayed clearly, however, at points the emotion feels forced which reduces the impact slightly. Despite the sister's obvious differences, Vines' considered direction successfully highlights the strong bond they have, which makes it all the more difficult to watch towards the end. Suzanne O'Brien


Conversations We Never Had, As People We’ll Never Be ****

C ARTS C aquila (Venue 21) until 27 August

Would you “fast-track your heartbreak”, given the chance? Following a messy breakup, university student Gina (Lucy Harris) finds herself facing the choice after ordering a pill online which offers to permanently “erase” her ex-girlfriend Frankie (Atlanta Hayward) from her life.

This twist, which avoids seeming contrived by not taking itself too seriously, leaves the pair with 30 minutes to decide whether to delete their relationship from both of their memories. What follows is a fiercely candid breakdown of what relationships really are, and what they really do to us. Performed and produced by recent graduates, it is an entrancingly quirky hour and an impressive playwriting debut from Harris.

Gina wants to know who she is without Frankie’s formative influence, and wonders “whether it would have been kinder if we’d left it at hello”. Frankie is horrified, but soon the waters are muddied as the pair weigh up what they learnt and lost during the relationship. There are incisive discussions of sexuality and of motherhood, which Gina yearns for despite its reputation amongst her cool mates as a bit passé. Harris’ script deftly captures all the gawkiness of forthright young women who find themselves completely afloat. Harris and Hayward are brilliantly assured actors, their chemistry injecting the couple’s agonies into their audience’s chests.

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The venue imposes certain limitations on the production - emotions could be ramped up even further in a more professional space - but the lighting and sound design are stylishly done. In some ways, there are many pieces like this at the Fringe: fairly quiet meditations on how it is to be a young woman, in love, and facing life. But even if Harris could afford to write more adventurously given her talent, this show is absolutely the cream of the crop. Grace Spencer


Cox and Box ***

theSpace @ Venue 45 (Venue 45) until 26 August

With accommodation at a premium during the Fringe, this very model of a light one-act comic opera - Arthur Sullivan’s first hit, with a libretto by F.C. Burnard – has a hint of contemporary resonance, despite its traditional period presentation by Cambridge-based Velocirapture Theatre.

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Greedy landlord Sergeant Bouncer is renting one room to two unsuspecting tenants - Mr Cox, a hatter, who works by day and sleeps by night, and Mr Box, a printer, who habitually returns from his nightshift as his unwitting roommate is leaving for work. The merry-go-round scam is discovered and high dudgeon ensues, involving projectile cuts of meat, duels using household implements and a balletic pas de trois to smooth over the “misunderstanding”.

Unlike the plot twists – it transpires the men do not just unknowingly share a room – everything is just so and in its right place in the witty, rollicking execution by the three leads and crisp, brisk playing of the chamber ensemble, all kitted out in formal attire, even if it does feel like stepping back in time to the early days of the Fringe in the style and attitudes on display. Fiona Shepherd

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