Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: X: 1969 | Hiya Dolly! | Apartness | Real, Mad World | Assigned | Patience: Zero | Eh Up, Me Old Flowers! | Skank | Frighthouse Presents: The Wheel of Misfortune | Broke Her | Love and Piss | Gertrude and Ophelia in Hell | The Rip Current | Broke Her

Musicals about the Manson Family and Dolly the sheep lead this latest round-up of Fringe shows. Reviews by David Pollock, Sally Stott, Susan Mansfield, Katie Hawthorne, David Hepburn, Rory Ford and Ben Walters

X: 1969 ***

Greenside @ Riddles Court, until 27 August

Ultimately, presenting the story of the Manson Family cult as a musical to the songs of Fleetwood Mac is a far more sensitive approach than Quentin Tarantino’s recent efforts in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. It helps that Neon Diamond Theatre, a London-based company founded by graduates of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, are an entirely female group.

As such there isn’t a male in the show, with Manson a shadowy background figure who becomes manifest in these indoctrinated women’s hopes and fears regarding him. Following the thread of Linda Kasabian’s (Georgia Carr) induction into the group, the play – which was co-written by four members of the company – cleverly investigates the female relationships here.

Each of the six women performed by the ensemble is an outsider in some way, whether by long-standing abuse or neglect, and each finds solace in the hyper-toxic environment of the Family, apparently spurred by a blend of the acceptance they feel, the affirmation of the women around them and a jealous lust for Manson. Liv May Younger directs with confidence, but it’s Polina Senderova’s eerie choral adaptations of the songs of Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks which really grab the imagination amid this capable effort from a promising young company. David Pollock

Hiya Dolly! **

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall, until 27 August

X: 1969. Pic: Contributed

Ever wanted to see a chorus line of scientists sing about cloning a sheep to I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) by the Proclaimers? There's an appealingly silly idea at the centre of this musical show, which includes a super cute, tartan wearing Dolly the sheep/singer, but its attempts to make the science accessible lead to an uneven tone that feels part children’s entertainment and part jovial amateur dramatics production. While there are plenty of facts, an in-depth exploration of the Scottish team’s work and the ethical debates surrounding this are glossed over in favour of a chemistry lacking romance and jokes about “poking cells”. Sally Stott

Apartness **

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall, until 27 August

This is mainly the kind of filmed theatre performance that you might have watched during lockdown, rather thrillingly performed by Linda Marlowe and Sylvester McCoy, as an older isolating couple. It’s interspersed with ghoulish and somewhat elusive live stand-up by a comedian called Hannah (Eleanor May Blackburn) who seemingly gives Marlowe’s character Covid when delivering shopping, which, following her death, causes McCoy’s character to stab her with a kitchen knife in grief-stricken revenge. Unfortunately, interesting themes of blame, generational conflict and just what we’re supposed to make of the past two years are lost in the melodramatic ending. Sally Stott

Hiya Dolly! Pic: John Need

Real, Mad World **

theSpace on North Bridge, until 27 August

Trans woman Laura (a strong performance by Jack Ward, who is also the writer) fantasises about life as a wife and mother while struggling to get treatment for gender dysphoria. Meanwhile, her politically minded partner Lindsay (Oscar Griffin) tries to propose solutions while “talking about love in the rhythms of Soviet propaganda.” There are plenty of quick-fire, spiky arguments in this ambitious but flawed two-hander by Cambridge University Amateur Dramatics Club, but the depth of Laura’s pain seems too great for the play’s abrupt resolution to feel credible. Susan Mansfield

Assigned **

theSpace on North Bridge, until 27 August

In this imaginative play, a mysterious character called Ross is trapped in an Amazon-style warehouse. He’s haunted by the memories of an unhappy childhood, stuck in the kind of ‘box’ that is also being stacked and shipped out from his company, ‘Assigned’. Driven more by its ‘imprisoned in a box’ metaphor than the characters and their stories, it slows down into self-analytic musings on life and the roles we’re given. An interesting and experimental idea that seems to be commenting on gender at times, it is admirably performed by the cast (one of whom is the writer stepping in), but remains constrained by its concept. Sally Stott

Patience: Zero **

Laughing Horse @ the Brass Monkey, until 28 August

Dan Cardwell’s one-man show relates a heartfelt and illuminating tale about he and his partner Jackie’s shared journey in trying to have a child in the face of medical difficulties conceiving. It hits its stride towards the end, bringing home some of the pain of miscarriage, his own hopes and doubts as someone who wants to be a father, and even a few good jokes. Yet the piece is also designed as stand-up, and his improvisations and interactions with the crowd, and the unnecessary pause for a hopeful laugh after every punchline, really derail it. The straight storytelling theatre show, with some incidental funny lines which we glimpse in places, feels far more satisfying. David Pollock

Eh Up, Me Old Flowers! **

Pleasance Courtyard, until 29 August

It was funny at the time, argues Eh Up, Me Old Flowers! This biographical two-hander about Charlie Williams, the first Black British comedian to become a household name, via the 1970s hit series The Comedians, attempts to appraise his complicated legacy. Williams (in a sharp, agile performance by Tony Marshall) is interviewed by Nick Read’s stuffy interlocutor and asked to answer for jokes that, decades later, are considered deeply racist. Writer Chris England offers historical flashbacks as over-simplified justification, but when the retelling of those same jokes raises applause from the audience, the play becomes an unforgiving mirror. Katie Hawthorne

Skank **

Pleasance Courtyard, until 29 August

It’s not just the title of this one-woman show that recalls Fleabag – the tone of the material will be familiar to fans of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s outrageous character, with explicit accounts of sex, boozing and smear tests woven into the script. Writer and performer Clementine Bogg-Hargroves is a confident stage presence, but her darkly comic story of a frustrated office worker suffering a series of medical and social setbacks has more plot strands than a soap opera and almost as many characters. Things improve in a more focused second half, before an ending that is as sudden as it is contrived. David Hepburn

Frighthouse Presents: The Wheel of Misfortune **

Laughing Horse @ 32 Below, until 28 August

There's a manic anything-goes energy to this frequently shambolic but likeable horror comic come to life. Frighthouse are a group of Edinburgh genre fans who perform with more enthusiasm than actual technical ability. Their performances work best when they stick to their own accents, but there are bursts of invention in this Pay What You Can show. The stage is frequently bathed in comic book colours, there's effective video backdrops and some of the creature effects are realised surprisingly well. It's hard to enthusiastically recommend but impossible to dislike – and at least it's never boring. Rory FordGertrude and Ophelia in Hell **

theSpace @ Symposium Hall, until 27 August

Two good comedic performances ultimately can’t disguise the fact that this new play by Rebecca Gorman O’Neill is a half-decent idea that struts and frets upon the stage to little effect. Kate Poling plays Ophelia, who is in Hell – which does seem awfully harsh on Hamlet’s girlfriend. She’s soon joined by Susan Lyles as his mother Gertrude and the pair try to figure out where they went wrong, what they could have done differently and find a way out. Poling and Lyles share a nice comic chemistry but there’s not quite enough invention in the script to keep their partnership afloat. Rory Ford

Love and Piss **

Greenside @ Infirmary St (Ivy Studio), until 27 August

In this absurdist fable, a student falls through a crack in a toilet wall into a world of, well, piss, where he is forced to navigate a grotesque under-land with its own streets, pubs, workers and police. Presented by 3BUGS Fringe Theatre, its four-strong student cast cover a range of roles with plenty of gusto, and certain scenes conjure a suitably queasy, clammy environment. But the piece struggles to make clear either what is at stake in the protagonist’s ordeal or what the real-world implications might be. Ben Walters

Boys Who Punch Holes in Walls **

CC Blooms, until 28 August

An earnest look at toxic masculinity, Lex Joyce’s new play does rather have the air of an after-school educational drama. Kieran (Archie Beattie) and his gay best friend Max (Ewan Little) are getting ready to go to Kieran’s girlfriend’s party but when Max tries to put makeup on Kieran, he loses his temper and punches the wall. Confidently performed, this really goes nowhere that you wouldn’t expect and it does rather take its time to get there. Editing would make it useful as a piece to perform in schools but currently it isn't likely to have a great deal of appeal outwith that audience. Rory Ford

The Rip Current **

Pleasance Courtyard, Until 29 August

A young Scotsman named Jamie goes to university and struggles to fit in next to his poised, confident and comically caricatured upper class roommate. Their exchanges get increasingly heated, and we flash back to Jamie’s earlier life, where we see the alcoholism and domestic violence which shaped his family. This four-handed piece from Edinburgh University Theatre Company tries hard in all the right places, yet doesn’t have the power or poise to conjure something new or strikingly truthful from the heavy subject matter. It’s one of those ‘right to fail’ Fringe plays, where the experience for young company members is more important than the end product. David Pollock

Broke Her *

theSpace on North Bridge, until 27 August

For much of this piece, a man sneeringly berates and menaces a woman whose home he’s invaded as she sits tied up before him. He interrogates her about life with her husband, and there seems to be something targeted about this attack, although he refuses to reveal what until the husband shows up near the end. The young actors are focused and committed enough, but it’s a piece which is determined not to get to the point, and it leaves a bad taste in its substitution of a toneless extended threat of violence against a woman in place of real dramatic development. David Pollock