Edinburgh Fringe theatre, music and children's shows reviews: Beetle | Tam Lin: A Future Tale | Sound Clash: Death in the Arena | Chasing Butterflies | Everyone's Worried About Eve | Sir Percival and the Jabberwock
Beetle, House of Oz (Venue 73) ****
Until 26 August
For a very young audience, the simplest idea done with attention-grabbing flair can be enough to create an extremely memorable show. In the case of Beetle, produced by Australia’s Legs on the Wall company and showing at the House of Oz venue at the King’s Hall, those adults attending will feel just as great a sense of wonder at the spectacular world it invites us into.
Sally (Christy Tran) is a young girl on a mission down to the tree in her garden to try and capture an insect to study. Simon (Lloyd Allison-Young) is the lonely Christmas beetle who catches her attention, and her attempts to snare him lead the pair on a magical adventure together into the inner workings of the tree. On the bark, they meet a mysterious stick insect, and deep in the mycelium in the roots beneath the soil, they encounter a worm (both brought to life by performer/puppeteer Olivia Hadley). A turkey tries to eat Simon, and the voice of the tree echoes around them throughout, telling of its ages-old existence.
All of this is performed around a large model of a tree trunk standing centre stage, on which the performers nimbly climb and manoeuvre. That Simon’s costume is a rather cumbersome, shell-like arrangement makes this even more impressive and realistic – as though we were looking at the bark of the tree through a microscope. Fergus, the silent stick insect, is a triumph of costume design, his long, stilt-walking legs giving him an alien, insect-like feel. And the worm is an unexpectedly cute puppet, which children enjoy meeting after the show.
Some impressive rope work also gives the impression Sally is running along a branch, viewed from above. It’s the stand-out stunt of a striking show which takes young viewers on an immersive journey into nature by fusing puppetry, physical theatre, circus, video projection, and set and costume design with seamless imagination. David Pollock
Tam Lin: A Future Tale, Scottish Storytelling Centre (Venue 30) ***
Until 27 August
Tam Lin reimagines the traditional story of a man captured by the Queen of the Faeries, who seduces Janet, a young woman in the woods, and is punished by the Faerie Queen by transforming him into vicious beasts that Janet must hold fast onto, breaking the enchantment. This is Janet’s story as she journeys through (trigger warning) graphic sexual violence, celebrating queer culture and body autonomy, singing ‘this c*** is all mine’.
Originally commissioned by the Scottish International Storytelling Festival, it opens with a harp flourish and overlapping voiceovers of news and advertisements in a near-dystopian future where end-stage capitalism and big tech rule high. As a musical odyssey, Tam Lin is deftly wrought. Esther Swift’s voice and harp compositions accumulate and surge with Kirsty Law’s song-writing. Underpinned by resonant Gretsch guitar loops in a lush tapestry of dual lead singing, it’s as driving as it is haunting.
Where it doesn’t quite work is the storytelling style of Kirsty Logan which, while bold, is performed with a degree of clinical distance. Perhaps representing dissociation from sexual violence, the effect is, however, at odds with themes of embodied sexual liberation, and dwells somewhere on the edges of what is otherwise a virtuosic and impassioned performance from Swift and Law. Laura Cameron-Lewis
Sound Clash: Death in the Arena, Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) ***
Until 28 August
This new musical may have a Romeo and Juliet-style romance at its core, but there’s a political undertow driving it along. Set in a world where MCs, rather than MPs, are in charge (and music and dance battles, rather than elections, choose who wins), Sound Clash: Death in the Arena is pulsating with energy.
But across the social divide we also find a hatred of injustice on one side, and a desire for money and power on the other. The elders in charge have been locking horns for years and now it’s time for some of the younger members of the community to have their say.
Enter Ashley and Kazzandra, our good-natured lovers trying to build a relationship in the face of disapproval from both family and friends. The future of the city hinges on the outcome of the upcoming dance-off and lyric contest, but so too does their love.
There are no unexpected twists and turns here, and it’s clear from the start who we should be rooting for. But the absence of nuanced storytelling is made up for by the cracking dancehall soundtrack, sharp dance routines and passionate performances. Kelly Apter
Chasing Butterflies, Pleasance Dome (Venue 23) **
Until 28 August
A killer stalks the streets of Whitechapel again in Ella-Seber Rajan's new psychological thriller. The twist here is that it's 1985, there’s no clear pattern to the murders, no-one is safe – young, old, man, woman, black, white – and the only recurring clue is a Red Admiral butterfly left at the scene of the crime. D.I. Richards (Abraham Botha) is the archetypal cop-on-the-edge tasked with solving the case and while the psychology here may not be entirely convincing it's better thought through than some of the dialogue ("The top brass is on me like a dog in heat!"). It's too clichéd to be truly effective, but a half-decent, uh, stab. Rory Ford
Everyone's Worried About Eve, Greenside @ Riddle's Court (Venue 16) **
Until 26 August
There’s a broadly affected quality to much of writer-actor Alex John’s performance in this solo show and it’s quite intentional. Eve is an autistic woman who chooses to view her life as a sitcom as a coping mechanism. John’s portrayals of stand-up comedians, awkward social situations and her twin sister Marnie are extremely exaggerated, but they’re also a form of “masking” – camouflaging your natural personality to fit in or deal with stressful situations. John (who is neurodivergent herself) does better as a serious side emerges and she’s allowed to relax into something closer to her own personality. But she’s sometimes poorly served by her own script, which isn’t sharp or funny enough and never convinces as a sitcom parody. Rory Ford
Sir Percival and the Jabberwock, Greenside @ Infirmary Street (Venue 236) **
Until 26 August
Based on Jabberwocky, Lewis Carroll’s 1871 nonsense poem, Sir Percival and the Jabberwock impresses in its handling of verse. It is an hour-long labyrinth. There are conundrums at every corner, twists of phrase at every turn. Not enough time is spent in ‘the real world’ before Percival (Daniel Nisbet) enters this Carrollian universe, though. The action moves too quickly, and there is an over-reliance on tropes, making key moments anti-climatic as a result. Writer Jacob Watson’s command of language is to be commended. However, this production lacks the senses of humour, wonder, and intrigue that are so rife in the original. Josephine Balfour-Oatts