White Tea (****), David Leddy’s exquisitely realised new piece brings together a young Japanese woman and the estranged adopted daughter of her mistress following her stroke. The mother, it turns out, was a peace campaigner who began her mission after the fallout of Hiroshima. What follows for the visiting Naomi (Gabriel Quigley) is a belated purging in a world where ancient and modern collide via the calming force of a tea ceremony.

This may be the play’s superficial narrative, but Leddy’s own production has a multitude of layers on show from the moment the audience are invited to don kimonos and sip their own cup of tea.

There’s something of Quebecois director Robert Lepage’s influence at play, both in the hi-tech execution and the bridging of east-west experiences. And there are a multitude of Yoko Ono and Live Art references. The audience are contained in a white cube environment that could be an installation, where paper cranes hang down, at first glance resembling miniature Airfix kit Spitfires. Becky Minto’s design unfolds like a flower in a Zen garden and Tim Reid’s video is in turn urgent and serene in a hauntingly fragile portrait of magic and loss.

Plays about theatre are invariably tediously indulgent in-jokes to amuse the producer’s peers. John Clancy’s The Event (****), however, is a far cleverer affair, in which Clancy’s regular collaborator David Calvitto steps into the spotlight and leads us through a witty and incisive dissection of the performance process.

Through this, we also get a consciously existentialist study of the human condition in all its absurdity, as well as a nod beyond the fourth wall at the big bad world outside.

In the piece’s direct address to the audience, The Event resembles a less confrontational take on Peter Handke’s counter-cultural piece, Offending The Audience. In Clancy and Calvitto’s hands, though, it becomes a laconic but wise plea for flesh and blood communication.

Aside from The Event’s broader philosophical musings about truth, artifice and the unspoken contract between audience and actor, it’s worth it just to see what is effectively a Calvitto masterclass.

Wearing an expression that moves from bemusement to hang-dog, every nuance, gesture and phrase are rigorously controlled. If it hasn’t been acknowledged already, then it should be noted now that Calvitto is one of the funniest and cleverest performers around, who can signal a rare form of intellectual prat falling with the raise of an eyebrow. As Calvitto himself observes, “One could spend one’s entire life sitting in the dark watching events designed for pleasure and distraction.”

One of the brightest stars of 2008 was playwright Ella Hickson, whose series of linked monologues, Eight, was a startling look at the state of the nations in 21st-century flux. A year on, and with the world having been turned upside down several times over, Hickson has spread her wings with Precious Little Talent (****) in which a prodigal English girl in New York looks for a cause for her disenfranchised generation to believe in.

Instead, Joey finds the warm pocket of an American boy on the roof of her sickly father’s apartment block. Sam shows her the bright lights on Christmas Day, but even his puppy-dog charm can’t hide her from the real world beyond trivial pursuits, whatever the language barrier.

Sam’s opening monologue, with Joey just a disembodied voice in his head, seems to be setting the tone for some rites of passage rom-com; Suddenly Last Winter if you will. By the time the scene is played out from the point of view of a flesh and blood Joey, it all looks like an Anglo-American take on Beyond Sunrise, as Sam, Joey and Joey’s father, George, move beyond Sam’s declaration that “politics makes for bad sex”.

Hickson’s monologues fly into beautifully lyrical territory in her own production, which draws understated and impressively mature performances from her cast. Conversely, the actual exchanges are almost too wordy, though this is a far from serious complaint. Yes, it’s sentimental, sometimes reads like diary entries from a holiday romance and at times flirts far too close to middlebrow for comfort. At the play’s heart is a gentle call to arms for Joey’s generation to rediscover the human capacity to change the world in small but significant ways. As a manifesto, Joey’s final speech, delivered impressively bombast-free by Emma Hiddleston, is a genuine inspiration.

White Tea, Assembly Rooms, until August 31, 2pm and 5pm. The Event, Assembly Rooms, until August 31, 1.10pm. Precious Little Talent, Bedlam Theatre, until August 29, 2.30pm.

Neil Cooper

“A new comedy from the writer of the West End hit Lord of the Rings” has to be one of the more curious promotional lines on the Fringe, but the creative team behind Murder Mystery Musical (****) have an impressive joint CV. Their combined talents result in a show with terrific tunes, sharp lyrical barbs and a pace so galloping that characters have a tendency to die minutes after the end of their solos.

The plot sees acquaintances of a late music mogul and TV talent judge known as Mr Mean gather on an island to scatter his ashes, only to find themselves marooned – with a killer in their midst. Sound familiar? The affectionate tribute to Agatha Christie extends to the inclusion of a Belgian private detective with a famous grandfather and a distinct shortage of little grey cells.

Refreshingly, every lyric is delivered with crystal clarity by a very talented (and very game) cast performing without microphones in front of a live band. Somewhat disturbingly, one of the men who shares responsibility for the show’s innuendo-laden dialogue (Alister Cameron, collaborating with Shaun McKenna) was the lyricist for Play School and Fingermouse. They perhaps chose the right line for the posters after all.

The big selling point of Bloodbath – The Musical (**) is its celebrity cast, which features boy band member Antony Costa and former Hollyoaks actress Ciara Janson alongside seasoned West End performers Siobhan McCarthy and Gary Amers. The quality of the singing and indeed some of the tunes is high, which makes it all the more frustrating that the show itself leaves a lot to be desired.

Serious sound balance problems could conceivably be ironed out before the end of August, while others – such as muddled structure and limp direction by Tony McHale, who also wrote the book and lyrics – may prove fatal. Still, the combination of big ballads, bad jokes and pretty girls in their underwear could conceivably push this into so-bad-it’s-good territory.

By contrast, Geoff Page’s Academy of Death (**) plays it straight, taking inspiration from Burke and Hare to tell the story of an idealistic young medical student driven by infatuation to convert cadavers into cash.

The plot itself is a little shaky, but might have lent itself to a knockabout comedy-horror treatment. There’s a glimpse of what the show might have been in the hummable chorus number There’s No-one Like Dr Knox, even if an “unorthodox” rhyme is thrown away too cheaply. Elsewhere, the music is let down by lyrics that too often feel like stream of consciousness ramblings, or use repetition instead of rhymes.

The young cast from Cambridge at times struggle to be heard over soaring crescendos but they have been well drilled by Eleanor Lyons, who demonstrates real directorial flair and throws in some suitably chilling flourishes.

Murder Mystery Musical, George Square Theatre, until August 31, 7.10pm. Bloodbath – The

Musical, George Square Theatre, until August 31, 9.30pm, and also at 4pm on August 22, 23, 29 and 30. Academy of Death, C, until August 15, 12.35pm.

Shona Craven