Edinburgh Fringe Theatre reviews: Gusla | Artist/Muse | Lost And Found | A Manchester Anthem | Boy Out the City

Presented entirely in untranslated Polish, Gusla captures the magic of theatre (and gets 5 stars), while Glasgow and Manchester provide the respective settings for two shows about emotionally turbulent nights out

Gusla, Summerhall (Venue 26) *****

until 27 August

Delivered entirely in Polish, this is an audacious, exhilarating, and thrillingly creepy physical performance from Lubuski Teatr. Dispensing with the need to be understood by an English-speaking audience, it instead offers something far more magical and difficult to describe. Indeed, to try and give it a set interpretation feels contrary to what it is. The point, including its lack of translation, partly seems to be that you make your own. Primeval rhythms, macabre music, highly committed performances and evocative costumes with animal heads that feel like they could have once belonged to the former residents of Summerhall (but are actually manmade) create a fantasy fiction aesthetic that wouldn’t be out of place in a Hollywood film. But with references to paganism and witchcraft, it also feels much deeper than that.

If you read the programme, you’ll find out that the piece is based on the second and fourth parts of the 19th-century mystical love story, Dziady, by the romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz. But really, it’s more enjoyable to simply ride with the rhythm of the performance, with its quieter moments and epic build-ups, as the exceptional cast, thrillingly directed and choreographed by Grezegorz Bral, implore, converse and conflict with one another (and with us), their chants and rants embodied in their bone-like bodies, which move as one.

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Even the pianist’s face is wrought with emotion, accompanying the stamp-stamp, clap-clap rhythm, interspersed with balls being smashed in bowls, as something is conjured up. A girl pleading, an arachnid-like boy emerging, two wise figures staring into the mist; are we the spirits that haunt them, or do they haunt us? This kind of magic doesn’t need words to create meaning; the unbottled energy between each of these highly focussed performers fills the audience and connects us to the past, to mythology, to each other, in the way theatre has done throughout time. Sally Stott

Artist/Muse, Assembly George Square Studios (Venue 17) ***

until 28 August

Gusla. Picture:  Kamil DerdaGusla. Picture:  Kamil Derda
Gusla. Picture: Kamil Derda

The idea of an artist and his (inevitably ‘his’) muse held a lot of prevalence in the 20th century; the tortured, lustful male artist finding inspiration in a woman as model, performer, lover or a blend of all three. An anachronistic idea in the wake of #MeToo (although male artists are still supported by the women in their lives, and vice versa), this thoughtful, ‘90s-set piece by writer/director team Diana Feng, Tegan Verheul and Clarisse Zamba seeks to unpick the old-fashioned idea of the muse.

Olivia (Caterina Grosoli) is a bohemian, free-spirited young woman, just out of a tempestuous relationship with fiery artist Laurent (Luke Oliver), who wanders into the studio of the equally boho painter Paul (Sushant Shekhar). He's a complete unknown, but the pair strike up a conversation, a working relationship and eventually an affair. Despite his mouldable artistic potential, Paul is a two-dimensional supporting character, there to serve a role in Olivia’s story, much like Laurent and a society darling art collector called Robert (also played by Oliver).

Perhaps that makes its own point about old-fashioned depictions of women in art. Olivia – and Grosoli’s performance of her as someone always in physical and mental motion – is captivating, a woman who subtly guides both Paul’s artistic expression and his emerging reputation, before her name is forgotten by history. David Pollock

Lost And Found, Just the Tonic at The Caves (Venue 88) ***

until 27 August

Collaborative theatre collective The Counterminers has three shows at the Fringe: nightclub-set play With A Smile, devised piece Hersterectomy, and this eight-handed comedy from Helensburgh playwright Molly Keating, which had a four-day run last year and now returns for the whole month.

Lost And Found follows six young women through a night out in Glasgow. It centres on Maeve, a Glasgow girl who is confident in her love for her “shitehole” city but confused about her own sexuality. Joining her on a booze-filled odyssey are two English university friends, two childhood pals, one same-sex love interest, and a rogue’s gallery of guys.

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There is certainly something here. As the night out descends into drunken disagreements and romantic revelations, Keating conducts a compelling exploration of Maeve’s torn loyalties and the sharp differences between the social groups she straddles. Her play also serves as a Joycean love letter to Glasgow and its paradoxical status as Britain’s friendliest yet most dangerous city.

Megan Gall is terrific as Maeve – all gritty Glasgow humour – and director Juliet Gray squeezes her energetic eight-strong cast onto a small stage without too much mayhem. Both story and stage lack refinement, but this is an enjoyable ensemble comedy with a socio-political punch. Fergus Morgan

A Manchester Anthem, Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) ***

until 27 August

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A soundtrack of Oasis, Elbow and house music punctuates this Manchester-set, one-man odyssey, which ran to award-winning acclaim at London’s VAULT Festival earlier this year, and now arrives at Pleasance Courtyard. Written by Nick Dawkins, directed by Charlie Norburn and performed by Tom Claxton – who work under the lower-case aegis ramblemill – the show follows Tommy, a working-class teenager, on his last night in Manchester before he leaves the city to study at Oxford University.

Claxton – an athletic, expressive performer, who looks a bit like a ginger Josh O’Connor – plays Tommy, narrating his 24-hour journey from his final shift as a café barista, through to the pre-drinks he reluctantly attends with his fellow Oxford undergrads, the chaotic night out that follows and the exhausted emotional climax the next morning. Family trauma bubbles away under the surface.

Norburn’s production is feverishly fast-paced and writer Dawkins compellingly considers class, wealth, education, friendship and belonging throughout. It is a bit unsubtle and over-ripe at times, though. And, for a show that shouts about its love for Manchester, it’s surprisingly unspecific. A bit more geographical detail would go a long way in upping its authenticity – and its impact. Fergus Morgan

Boy Out the City, Underbelly (Venue 61) ***

until 27 August

Spending six months on his own in the countryside in rural Oxfordshire, Declan Bennett is forced to spend some time in his own mind and reflect on his past, from a childhood in Coventry, where homophobic bullying was the norm, to his years partying and living the life in London. Separated from his boyfriend, his detachment from London also appears to cause him tangible emotional pain – even as his mental health suffers, there’s the sense that he’s slowing down and regaining touch with his life again. By the end of the piece, he’s in Hobbycraft buying crafting materials.

Performed capably in autobiographical monologue by Bennett himself, the high tempo and urgency of his performance, as directed by Nancy Sullivan, masks the fact there’s more reflection than confrontation in the piece – that he’s recounting a journey rather than defeating a demon. There’s only one point at which our sense of jeopardy really spikes, when he mentions a youthful diagnosis of testicular cancer; yet otherwise, this study of a man on the edge of a nervous breakdown has a diaristic, almost wistful quality at heart. It’s good, though. Bennett’s delivery is heightened and involving, and the sense we’re entirely within the experience of a queer man of his generation is tangible. David Pollock