Theatre review: Square Go, Roundabout @ Summerhall

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Plays about toxic masculinity on the Fringe this year often tend to be grim affairs, in which men denounce themselves in disturbing detail, or their victims recount their pain.

Square Go, Roundabout @ Summerhall (Venue 26) ****

At the Roundabout in Summerhall, though, Scottish writers Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair bring a blast of rowdy playground comedy and radical analysis to the question of how masculinity is constructed, and how men often internalise the need to be tough, violent and unfeeling. In a school playground somewhere in Scotland, we meet Max, who is about ten or eleven, and his weird wee pal Stevie Nimmo, who has volunteered to be his second (or “hauners”, in Scottish playground-speak) in an arranged fight or “square go” with the terrifying school bully, Danny, who is much bigger and hairier than either of them.

Neither Max nor Stevie is daft, though, and amid the sparring and bantering that makes up the bulk of the relationship, they find time to wonder why it isn’t OK for Max just to go home, and forget his appointment with a severe thumping.

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There’s a sense of family lives gone wrong, particularly for the violent Danny; and when Gavin Jon Wright’s Stevie takes time out to don a scary motorbike helmet and rasp like Darth Vader, in the role of the bully, there’s an odd poignancy to his performance, alongside the terror.

In Finn den Hertog’s fast-moving and sometimes thrilling production, with soundtrack by indy band Frightened Rabbit and vivid lighting by Peter Small, Scott Fletcher and Gavin Jon Wright deliver a perfectly balanced pair of performances, with Max at the show’s thoughtful dramatic centre, and Stevie acting as the hyperactive link between his pal and the wider world of the playground and streets, where might is right; and when, at the end, the two pause to ask themselves why they don’t just stop all this, and do something more interesting instead, the audience raises its voice as one, to cheer them on their way.

• Until 26 August, 8:20pm