Theatre review: IAmDram, Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

Theatre-maker Hannah Maxwell delves deep into her family’s passion for amateur dramatics in this joyful, perceptive solo show.

Hannah Maxwell's show is a witty, warm examination of where we come from and how it shapes us

IAmDram, Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh * * * *

Maxwell grew up with the Welwyn Thalians, the group of amateur musical theatre enthusiasts to which three generations of her family belonged. Random outbursts of song were common around the dinner table and, in 2010, when Maxwell came out as a lesbian, her mother and grandmother were too absorbed by their power struggle over the forthcoming production of My Fair Lady to pay the news much heed. Meanwhile, Maxwell, under pressure to audition for the leading role, realised she’d rather play Freddy, Eliza’s suitor, than the heroine herself.

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I AmDram is cleverly written and full of deadpan humour, with snatches of music perfectly timed for ironic effect, and even a radical rewrite of Gilbert & Sullivan’s tongue-twisting patter song ‘I am the very model of a modern Major-General’. It is also an honest reflection on the gulf Maxwell sees opening up between her world, as a experimental theatre-marker in London, and the world of the Thalians, artistically, personally and politically.

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The show is so finely pitched that she sends up some aspects of am dram mercilessly (the “long awkward blackout” while backstage crew argue about the placement of a chair, for example), yet never loses her respect for those who give it their heart and soul. While gently posing questions about the gender and racial politics of many classic musicals, she also freely acknowledges that this is the place where she fell in love with theatre. This is an honest, compassionate and often very funny look at how to break free from your roots, while still celebrating what they’ve given you.

Until 26 August