Solo shows are among the most unpredictable categories of Fringe fare: you may see a virtuoso display of one-person theatre, a slab of self-indulgent catharsis (where the performer has suffered for their art and now it is the audience's turn), or occasionally both at once.
In Think No Evil Of Us – My Life With Kenneth Williams (St John's Church Hall), David Benson interweaves his own memories of a tyrannical headmaster and an insane mother with eerily perfect impersonations of the late comedian, in a dramatised coming-to-terms both with others' shortcomings and his own. Carol McGuigan's Inside Uitlander (Assembly Rooms) is a gentle, touching account of her teenage years as a Geordie transplanted to the Orange Free State, spiced with gloriously nostalgic references to the 1970s pop music which served as a lifeline to her homeland.
Albert Camus, What's The Score? (Pleasance) pretends to be autobiographical but is not: performer Nick Whitworth and co-writer Wes Williams have created an irritating but engaging character in Alex, a existentialist goalkeeper whose relationship with his girlfriend suffers at the hands of his obsession with the French-Algerian writer.
The protagonist of Donal O'Kelly's two-hour tour-de-force Catalpa (Theatre Workshop) is an unsuccessful Dublin screenwriter; his hero, in turn, is the captain of a Massachusetts whaler engaged in 1875 to spring six Fenian prisoners from Western Australia. In telling this true story, O'Kelly presents a dazzling array of characters, ranging from a ghost to a sea-bird, and turns his bedroom set ingeniously into a ship in full sail. O'Kelly's last Edinburgh appearance was six years ago; he should return more often to demonstrate the pinnacle of grand single-handed drama.
O'Kelly's performance does not stint on physicality. but he is left in the shade by Australian company Legs on the Wall. All Of Me (Pleasance) is a remarkable, almost wordless acrobatic piece recounting the slow disintegration of a family. Beginning with one performer spot-lit in mid-air as the yet unborn daughter, this quartet builds a variety of locations with its bodies, depicting golden times, growing tensions and finally a suicide, all with astonishing grace and energy.
This year as last, though, the piece at once most spectacular and most emotionally powerful was Carmen Funèbre by the Polish company Teatr Biuro Podrozy (Edinburgh University Old Quad). They did not set out to explore the ramifications of war, simply to portray its horrors. In a darkened, booming open-air space, sinister stilt-walking warlords rounded up victims hidden among the audience, herding them through huge. forbidding gates; wounded veterans were fearfully reviled by their former comrades; at every moment one's heart and conscience ached at the senseless and inhuman waste. Many of the audience applauded wildly; some reeled away in dumb, awestruck silence.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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