The Studio

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Traverse Theatre

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Royal Lyceum

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Reviewed by Mark Brown

The End Of Eddy is the latest theatre work by the successful collaborative pairing of writer Pamela Carter and auteur director Stewart Laing. A co-production by London children’s company the Unicorn Theatre and Laing’s own, Glasgow-based Untitled Projects, it is adapted from the autobiographical first novel by acclaimed, young French author Edouard Louis.

Premiering at the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), it traces the impoverished and troubled childhood and youth of Eddy Bellegueule (Louis’s original name). Eddy is white, working-class and gay. He was brought up in the unprepossessing Picardy village of Hallencourt, from which he escaped, by way of education, to Amiens and, then, Paris.

The tale is told by two young actors, Alex Austin (who is white and bears a very distinct resemblance to Louis) and Kwaku Mills (who is black). They perform the roles of Eddy, his family and tormentors on a stage that is bare save for a bus shelter, a bin and four ingeniously integrated video screens, which are mounted and moveable on metal posts.

Like Louis’s decision to write the story as a novel, the representation of the character of Eddy by two actors plays neatly with ideas of the construction of truth. However, the depiction of Eddy’s early life, surrounded by violence, racism and toxic notions of masculinity (complete with their attendant misogyny and homophobia), carries a terrible veracity.

Acted with a winning combination of empathy, dexterity and vitality, the piece is humorous and chilling by turns. It is also a little too absorbed in its own metatheatricality at times (as in the direct reading from the novel towards the end).

Nonetheless, this is a powerful, absorbing and inventive piece which should be seen, in particular, by anyone who is, or ever was, young and gay.

There’s more autobiography in What Girls Are Made Of by leading Scottish theatremaker Cora Bissett. Directed by the Traverse’s outgoing artistic director Orla O’Loughlin, it is, effectively, two (very strong) plays, rather than one.

The first weaves Bissett’s Fife childhood into the story of her briefly successful, but ill-fated, rock band Darlingheart and her subsequent entanglement in the tawdry web of the music industry. The other, following, it has to be said, a somewhat shuddering gear change, is a courageously candid and deeply moving account of Bissett’s harrowing experience of miscarriages and, ultimately, a successful pregnancy.

Performed on Ana Ines Jabares-Pita’s fine, rock gig set, Bissett’s engagingly narrated and dramatised autobiography is intercut with nicely performed songs (ranging from PJ Harvey to Darlingheart). The dramatisations are helped along beautifully by the excellent, often hilarious actor-musicians Grant O’Rourke and Simon Donaldson (who play an array of characters, from Bissett’s parents to unscrupulous band manager Dirk Devine). Musician Susan Bear (on drums) chips in with a little acting, too.

What it lacks in its somewhat awkward structure, Bissett’s piece makes up for in its emotive humanity. Warm, funny, achingly sad and wonderfully musical, it is little surprise that it is bringing audiences to their feet.

In another theatrical vein entirely is The Prisoner, which is written and directed by the great elder statesman of world theatre Peter Brook and Marie-Helene Estienne, and presented on the EIF programme by Paris-based company Theatre des Bouffes du Nord. Created “through a series of workshops in various countries” it tells the story of a young man who, being guilty of patricide, is sentenced to sit in a desert facing a prison.

The crime is riven with moral complexities. The young man murdered his father (who was having sexual relations with his own daughter, the young man’s sister), not because he was outraged by the incest, but out of jealousy.

In turn, the daughter denies that her father raped her, claiming instead that the sexual relations were a consensual response to the death of her mother.

The violent, physical punishment meted out the young man and the unusual sentence he receives subsequent to it, speak to Brook and Estienne’s interest in traditional, non-Western narratives and concepts of justice. This fact is emphasised by the framing of the story by an elderly, white, English narrator in a play which is performed by actors from Sri Lanka (the prisoner), India (his sister), Mali (his uncle) and Mexico (a villager perturbed by the presence of the prisoner, who is, significantly, an unwanted immigrant).

A spartan piece (both dramatically and visually), the play feels like (what it surely is) a careful distillation of various narratives down to an almost meditative, slow burning 67 minutes of theatre. It is beautifully acted, intelligently challenging and thought provoking; offering more, perhaps, after one has left the theatre than during the performance itself.

Politics and morality are also to the fore in It’s True, It’s True, It’s True (Underbelly Cowgate, ends today). Played by a fine cast of three young women, it is a powerful and inventive staging of the 1612 trial of Agostino Tassi for the rape of the painter Artemisia Gentileschi.

Underground Railroad Game (Traverse, ends today) is neither as deep, nor as original, nor as radical as it promised to be in its consideration of the racial history of the United States.

The brilliant actor, director and producer Guy Masterson celebrates his 25th year on the Fringe this year. Only he could get away with A Christmas Carol (Assembly George Square, ends tomorrow) in August. It is, typically of Masterson, a gorgeously performed piece of solo theatre.