Edinburgh Fringe theatre reviews: Shedinburgh Fringe Festival: Beats | Quarter Life Crisis | Labels

On two stages in two theatres in two far-apart cities, small wooden performance spaces have been built to take the temporary place of the many varied and expansive theatrical areas which usually fill the city of Edinburgh during August, writes David Pollock

Beats ****

Quarter Life Crisis ***

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Labels ****

Beats is part of Shedinburgh Fringe Festival.

Devised by producer Francesca Moody (who brought us Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s original Fleabag in 2013 and last year’s breakout hit Baby Reindeer), from an idea by Scottish theatremaker and co-producer Gary McNair, the Shedinburgh Fringe Festival is an approximately once-a-day online broadcast which incorporates a rich vein of exclusive theatre and comedy.

One garden shed sits in the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh – which it’s a joy for experienced Fringegoers to catch even a glimpse of – while the other is at London’s Soho Theatre. Each performance is accessed by a minimum £4 donation to its creator, while the live nature of seeing an artist onstage is emphasised by the fact that these shows are available only at the advertised broadcast times; there is no free-to-access future life hung on a YouTube peg and left to be drained of value by any viewer who may stumble along.

This format is an important statement about the value we might place on supposedly disposable, online-broadcast theatre, although it means that unfortunately the works which we cover here are no longer available to view. Still, we hope they may give you an idea of what’s happening with Shedinburgh, and the vaguest outline of what to expect from a bill which still includes Sara Pascoe, Jack Rooke and the just-announced Steve Coogan.

Written by Kieran Hurley, McNair’s co-writer on the Moody-produced Square Go, Beats is a one-off revival of Hurley’s breakthrough solo performance monologue, read script-in-hand by actor Lorn Macdonald (who appeared in the screen version of this play and Hurley’s Traverse hit Mouthpiece, also adapted by MacDonald as Declan in this month’s virtual Traverse programme).

It tells of Scots teen of the 1990s Johnno McCreadie, whose initiation into the illicit rave scene of the Criminal Justice Bill, and the overwhelming police clampdown on such events. This version is naturally shorn of much of the original’s power – Macdonald is seated with his script open before him, and there are no thundering soundsystem or darkened stage lights – but this brings the raw combined quality of the writing and the performance to the fore. The period politics of Beats are not its focus, so much as the expression of the natural desire of youth to share experience in celebration, and music’s role in that; in Covid times, the pang of loss this brings is profound.

On the Wednesday evening midway through Shedinburgh’s run, two more already-existing pieces were broadcast back-to-back from the shed, both of which brought down-to-earth but never-more-urgent explorations of race in the UK. Yolanda Mercy’s Quarter Life Crisis was seen at Underbelly in 2017, where it gathered good reviews; the reasons why are apparent from this edited-down ‘shed’ version, as Mercy delivers a solo piece about the intricacies of millennial life in London, with her character’s Nigerian heritage a constant in the background. Mercy’s storytelling is warm and involved throughout, and if we felt a little unsatisfied at its end, that’s only because this excerpted version left us wanting more.

Much like Beats, Joe Sellman-Leava’s Labels won a Scotsman Fringe First upon its arrival in Edinburgh, although unlike either of the above Shedinburgh shows – both of which would have worked equally as well presented as radio pieces, with the vision turned off – it feels more like a proper, physical piece of theatre in this context.

Sellman-Leava stands, he moves around, he applies name labels to the set and his own chest as the piece progresses – a gimmick which ends up working perfectly, drawing our attention firmly towards the uses and abuses of categorising people. At one point, subtly side-stepping the fact that audience interaction is the only part of the show he can’t do, he invites Moody onto the set to be his accomplice. The easy intimacy of his account of growing up mixed-race in England gives us a sometimes bitter taste of the theatrical experience we miss so much.

Daily, once-only Shedinburgh Fringe Festival performances are ongoing online at www.shedinburgh.com until Saturday 5 September.

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