Fringe Physical Theatre

Mary Brennan

It Folds

four Stars

Only Bones

five Stars

Meet Fred

five stars

all shows at Summerhall

IN THE same way as grief dislocates sense and shifts the world out of kilter, so It Folds presents like a jigsaw where some pieces have got lost, and those remaining don’t seem to be from the same picture. There’s a white-sheeted ghost, supposedly of a dead boy – but it’s a man’s voice entertaining us with roguish recollections of winding up the local priest by introducing dramatic pauses between phases of the Mass. Do the dead grow old in the afterlife? The lad himself is also on-stage, snuggling into the hugging arms of his murderous abductor – does that mean he died happy? A racketty psychic-for-hire garbles out whatever fiction she thinks will comfort the emotionally gutted parents. The publicity, the prurience, the ongoing police enquiries into their son’s disappearance have left them feeling they’re part of a grotesque circus, but they’re reacting differently – inside their pantomime horse costume, they soon pull apart. The harmony has gone out of their hearts and home. It’s left to the chorus of ghosts to bring proceedings back in tune – are there really birthday parties in the hereafter? You’ll have gathered that the fragments of sorrow, comedy and mayhem soldered together by theatre company Brokentalkers and dance company Junk Ensemble (Irish entities, both) do not provide a linear narrative. Best, therefore, to emulate the old dears who, robbed of speech – by a stroke, maybe? – try to regain joined-up thinking by attempting word association games with a brisk attendant. Can puzzles haunt and trouble you? This riddle-me-ree is knotty enough to do just that.

Run ends August 28

II TAKES a while for Thomas Monckton to come into the light. He’s been there all the time, of course – but we’ve only seen bits of him in the tight beam of a low-hanging lamp. His kneecaps, winking at us. His feet articulating hostility to an interloper – well it’s a hand in disguise, with no right to play footsie with one of this matched-up pair. No, the hand is better sticking with its own other half:together they can make mini-dramas where bickering fingers pointedly accuse or chide, or – in the flick of a wrist– they can turn fishy and beckon up an underwater realm, ruled over by wavy-tentacled jelly fish. This is merely the beginning. Monckton has such focussed control over every part of his body – including the rubbery fabric of his face, the sonically nuanced bellows of his lungs and tricksy vocal chords – that he can shape-shift in the blink of an eye, while the other is looking in the opposite direction. It’s mischievous and funny, sometimes tinged with the freakishness of the old travelling side-shows but in another,mesmerising way, Only Bones is a glorious salute to one man’s remarkable physicality. Gemma Tweedle is the on-stage technician whose own hands shine the light on Monckton’s visceral clowning.

Runs until August 28

FRED doesn’t have any bones, fingers or toes, facial expressions or clothes – he doesn’t have any genitalia on show either:he’s a small puppet, made of cloth, with three hands-on guys making his every move. We meet Fred when he’s fresh out of the box, unaware that he’s a puppet at all – and from then on, Fred is both an innocent abroad and, increasingly, a modern Everyman who falls foul of ‘the system’, can’t get a job or a date, and ultimately can’t afford to support himself. When the pen-pusher at the Labour Exchange cuts Fred’s PLA (puppetry living allowance), it means Fred losing the puppeteer in charge of his legs. He’s been rendered disabled - the humour here is brilliantly black with mordant social and political relevance. However there are also witty, well-aimed side-swipes at ignorance and bias within the arts - cue a two-faced theatre director who insists “I need it to come from you” then dismisses Fred’s suggestions, because he’s only a puppet. Ouch! But isn’t there still a tendency to think of puppet-shows as child’s play? The Hijinx team are having none of that: Meet Fred is a knowingly satirical piece for adults where an underdog – yes, he’s a puppet – decides to battle prejudice and follow his dreams. More power to your ideas, Hijinx, and your clever hands.

Runs until August 25