Brian Beacom

The Confessions Of Gordon Brown, Pleasance Courtyard

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AT the beginning of this one-hour, one-man biographical play, the on-stage Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve) directs us to the clock on the wall, and we come to realise that while the second hand continues to rotate, the minute and hour hands remain fixed.

A metaphor for the period in Brown's life when he sits back and reflects and rants about those (primarily Blair) who continually filibustered his hopes and dreams, denying him his place in the pantheon? Regardless, the stopped clock only served to remind the audience this show seemed longer than the two years and 310 days Gordon Brown survived in the hot seat.

Writer Kevin Toolis spoke to leading Brown supporters, including shadow chancellor Ed Balls and former special adviser Damian McBride, to research the play, but the feeling is they never told him much. Despite the play's remarkably self-assured air, it lacked narrative, reliant on (weak) polemic and overblown bitterness.

The writer also allowed his show to be described as 'hilarious' in promo material, which it most certainly isn't. But it does contain a terrific performance from Ian Grieve, who makes the very most of what he has to work with.

Until August 26


Shona Craven

Making News, Pleasance Courtyard

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The Shawshank Redemption, Assembly Rooms

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Hindsight, Assembly Rooms

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Not so much biting the hand that feeds him as gently clipping its fingernails, comedian and Buzzcocks stalwart Phil Jupitus takes the role of director-general of the BBC in Making News, a gentle satire by Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky. A well-structured comedy that earns increasing returns from its running gags, it follows a team of tail-chasing news hacks as they try to uphold the corporation's principles in the face of snowballing scandal.

Damned if they do and potentially exiled to Salford if they don't, the news team butt heads while Twitter erupts and Panorama starts sniffing around. Jupitus makes a suitably slippery, double-speaking DG and Dan Starkey an enjoyably potty-mouthed news editor, but it's Hal Cruttenden's prima donna newsreader who emerges as the star, transforming into a Humphrys-like hero under pressure.

Director Salinsky keeps the pace ticking along as deadlines loom and staff bicker, but irritatingly fails to prevent Liam Williams, in his Fringe debut, from delivering many of his lines upstage. Overall, the result is more of a BBC Breakfast croissant than a Question Time special - fresh, fluffy and enjoyable without leaving much to chew over.

Over at the Assembly Rooms, where comedians turning serious has become a Fringe tradition, Omid Djalili disappears into the role made famous by Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption.

Owen O'Neill's adaptation is no straightforward copy of the film, with different outcomes for some of the inmates as the innocent Andy Dufresne (Kyle Secor, conveying quite dignity in the midst of noisy chaos) struggles to survive being used and abused by wardens and prisoners alike.

A real sense of claustrophobia is evoked by Gary McCann's cage-based set, while sparingly used movement sequences capture the sleight-of-hand exchanges and grinding routine of day-to-day life in the jail.

A sweeping score by Matt Clifford gives the production an epic, cinematic feel, but it is simple theatrical touches and understated performances - by a cast also including Ian Lavender of Dad's Army - that powerfully bring home the story's message of hope against the odds.

If you had known then what you know now, what would you have done differently? Are we doomed to learn from painful experience or do we choose our own fates? These are some of the questions at the heart of Hindsight, a comedy about destiny, spring rolls and particle collisions presented by a home-grown team of stand-ups, including character chameleon Paul Sneddon (Vladimir McTavish, Bob Doolally) and the potty-mouthed Raymond Mearns.

Keir McAllister's three-hander starts promisingly, with Rob (James Kirk) dramatically interrupted just after hiding an engagement ring in a half-eaten bread roll.

The action unwinds in engaging fashion as Mearns's menacing intruder gradually reveals his motive, but thereafter things become baggy and over-complicated and the dramatic tension evaporates until Sneddon's character makes his entrance.

While a few over-elaborate gags fall flat, McAllister's script builds up nicely to its various reveals, dropping crumbs of characterisation as the trio bicker their way towards a resolution, but, ultimately, the result is not quite as strong as the sum of its parts.

Until August 25.

Neil Cooper

An Actor's Lament, Assembly

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Kiss Me, Honey, Honey!, Gilded Balloon

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Hooked, Sweet

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When two or more theatricals get together, gossiping will ensue. As alcohol and other substances flow, this will descend into a laughter-punctuated bitch-fest of epic proportions. So goes An Actor's Lament, the latest vehicle for tireless Fringe veteran, one-time enfant terrible and theatrical icon Steven Berkoff, who has been venting his spleen on stage for almost half a century.

This grotesque pastiche of theatre life might well be Berkoff's manifesto, as an actor turned playwright, a writer and an actress unleash their rhyming coupleted litanies on targets including the critics, the theatrical establishment, bad directors, writers and other actors, the West End, the TV drama treadmill, and, well, anyone who isn't them, really. While one actor riffs on a personal pet hate, the other two drape themselves behind, miming out the excesses of what looks like one endless first night party.

Set on a stage bare except for an ornate chair that will eventually become Berkoff's Shakespearian throne, this is a bitterly observed and flamboyantly self-reflexive in-joke. A million conversations like this may be going on in rented Edinburgh flats right now. They won't, however, possess the classically inspired relish of the man who turned bile into an art-form.

Until August 20.

Middle-aged spread moves in mysterious ways in Kiss Me, Honey, Honey!, Philip Meeks' new comic vehicle for the double act of Andy Gray and Grant Stott, both more used to sharing a stage during panto season.

Ross and Graham find themselves neighbours in a shabby bed-sit, where they bond over old Shirley Bassey records and eccentric Graham's guinea-pigs, Bette and Tom. Both are in search of true love following their downwardly mobile change of circumstances, and speed-dating and online chat-rooms brings out every grotesque desperado I town, while the mysterious Pepper Tiptree becomes the object of both mens' affections.

Meeks' play is a game of two halves in Sam Kane's quick-fire production. One minute it is a sit-com style bedsit-land Odd Couple peppered with slapstick and occasional flashes of pathos, the next it lurches into a madcap absurdist detective story before Ross and Graham finally find their way home.

If that makes for a slightly schizoid 70 minutes, it's more than compensated for by both men's performances. Gray is an old hand at playing the hang-dog loser, and he does it with aplomb here. Stott, however, is a revelation, capturing Graham's every oddball tic with guileless intent. It's with the smattering of wig and hat changes with which Gray and Stott morph into assorted landladies, house-guests and dogging vicars that they really come into their own in this comic confection.

Until August 26.

Art, love and children, writer Elizabeth Smart suggests at one point in Hooked, Carolyn Smart's series of bite-size biographies of seven 'scandalous' women, are the only things that matter. Performed by Canadian actor Nicky Guadagni in Layne Colman's production, these are a set of variables that occupy most of Smart's subjects to a greater or lesser degree. Perhaps not so much with Moors Murderer Myra Hindley, who tells her story with Guadagni curled up on a dimly-lit chair, although her obsessive love for accomplice Ian Brady is akin to that of Unity Mitford's bond with Adolf Hitler.

One thing that is consistent here is that, despite their own wilful and powerful personalities, each woman appears to have ended up being defined by the men or women they loved, from Zelda Fitzgerald to the Bloomsbury Group's Dora Carrington, Elizabeth Smart, Carson McCullers and Jane Bowles. Guadagni makes each flesh with a virtuosity that can flit from a northern English murderer to an upper-crust right winger in an instant.

Until August 25.