Theatre review: Blank Tiles

Edinburgh Festival Fringe: The commentator gives Austin Michaels a chance to say a few words. 'I don't really know any,' comes his reply. It's a joke because Austin has just won the World Scrabble Championship and he knows more words than anyone.

Assembly George Square Studios (Venue 17)

***

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But that was then and this is now, and every time the commentator’s voice returns, Austin’s answer becomes more poignant. Because today, suffering from Alzheimer’s, his vocabulary is evaporating with the helpless speed of tiles falling from a Scrabble board. In desperation, he rearranges the letters, hoping in vain to rediscover his lost sense of self in an anagram.

Actor Dylan Cole plays the former champion with the verbal rhythms of a Daniel Kitson and the social awkwardness of a Star Trek geek. Yet despite his spot-on impression of a man with nerdily unfunny humour, his jokes invariably mirthless, he still makes us care. As the certainties of Austin’s world fall away from him, we share in his feeling of bewilderment. “I remember it vividly,” is a catchphrase that rings increasingly hollow, just as Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable becomes more ironic with each rendition.

If Blank Tiles goes no further than illustrating a devastating medical condition, it does so with wit, warmth and sympathy.

Until 28 August. Today 3:55pm.