Edinburgh Festival Theatre


Church Hill Theatre

Four stars

Until August 25


Assembly Rooms

Four stars

Until August 25

Crocodile Fever

Traverse Theatre

Four stars

Until August 25


Acclaimed English multi-media company 1927 illuminate the Edinburgh International Festival programme with the gloriously inventive Roots. The show has its origins in research into the rich heritage of folktales.

Eleven stories are told with the company’s trademark combination of animation, live performance and live music. As so often with folktales, there is a macabre dimension; parents drown their child, the heart of a magical tropical bird is eaten over and over again.

However, there is also satire, comedy and pathos in these timeless and, sometimes, very modern stories. There is an unfortunate young man who has Poverty (who denounces him as a “capitalist”) as an unwanted house guest, a misogynistic king who is looking for a human doormat for a wife, and a French ant who receives multiple proposals of marriage after she finds a penny.

Given the cinematic dominance of CGI, there is great pleasure to be had in 1927’s beautifully handcrafted animations. The variety of stories here is reflected in an equally diverse array of visual styles, ranging from a rough, colourful cartoonishness reminiscent of 1970s children’s TV characters Roobarb and Custard to an altogether darker palette, more akin, perhaps to the aesthetic of Tim Burton.

Composer Lillian Henley’s music is equally attuned to the mood of each tale. Infused with the atmosphere of the London music hall and Weimar cabaret, Roots is a technically impressive and deliciously pleasurable celebration of the culture of the folktale.

There’s more delicious pleasure in Tartuffe at the Assembly Rooms (not to be confused with the other two productions of the play on the Fringe this year). A fast-paced, one-hour version of Liz Lochhead’s justly celebrated Scots adaptation of Moliere’s comedy, this is a revival of a successful production from the lunchtime theatre at the Oran Mor venue in Glasgow.

Moliere’s original drama, in which the avaricious and lecherous religious charlatan Tartuffe is taken in by the gullible gentleman Orgon, is a five-act comedy with 14 characters. Here, in director Tony Cownie’s excellent production, the whole shebang is pulled off by a fabulous, four-strong Scottish cast of Andy Clark (Tartuffe), Joyce Falconer (the wonderfully assertive housemaid Dorine), Grant O’Rourke (Orgon) and Nicola Roy (Orgon’s long-suffering wife Elmire).

On a minimal set, and attired as for the 1940s, the quartet perform the tale with the precision and comic timing required of a farce. Clark is skin-crawlingly hilarious as the scheming Tartuffe (all lasciviousness and faux repentance), while O’Rourke’s Orgon becomes ever-funnier the more misplaced is his indignation that anyone (not least his wife and housemaid) should doubt the sincerity of his beloved Tartuffe.

Roy is a superb Elmire (as clever as she is seductive in laying a trap for the shameless fake cleric), while Falconer is perfectly cast as the humorously outraged Dorine (not least due to her tremendous facility with Lochhead’s vernacular). Together, the four make, surely, one of the funniest hours of comic theatre on this year’s Fringe.

Not far behind in the humour stakes is Meghan Tyler’s bleak comedy Crocodile Fever. Last year, the hit show of the Traverse’s Fringe programme was Ulster American, a darkly comic piece by David Ireland, a dramatist who trained as an actor at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (as it now is) and hails from Northern Ireland.

Fascinatingly, Tyler’s provenance is identical. Her taste in dark, sometimes violent, humour is also similar to that of Ireland. Which, it has to be said, is no bad thing.

The play (which, like Ulster American, is given tight direction by Gareth Nicholls) is set in the farmhouse of an incredibly dysfunctional, Catholic family in Northern Ireland in 1989. The dysfunction flows from the viciously abusive, full-spectrum misogyny of paterfamilias Peter ‘Da’ Devlin, and is about to come to a head with the return home of his errant daughter, former convict and IRA member Fianna.

‘Da’ is bedridden, paralysed when he “accidentally” fell downstairs during one of the British Army’s regular raids. His survival comes courtesy of his other, pious, but palpably distressed, daughter Alannah.

The drama that ensues has shades of the plays of Martin McDonagh and the movies of the Coen Brothers, with an ironic nod to Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto. Brilliantly acted by Lisa Dwyer Hogg (Fianna), Lucianne McEvoy (Alannah) and Sean Kearns (‘Da’), it is, ultimately, a bold and emotive work of comic magical realism.

Also at the Traverse is Stef Smith’s Enough (until August 25), in which we witness the disintegrating world of female airline stewards Jane and Toni. As a work of feminist theatre, the play is considerably better than Smith’s overloaded Ibsen adaptation Nora: A Doll’s House. Nicely acted, often poignantly poetic it is, nevertheless, punctured by moments of unnecessarily bald polemic.

Shaving the Dead (Assembly George Square, until August 25) is about as dark a comedy as you can get. A free-ranging conversation between two male undertakers (one Welsh, the other Irish) it is an insightful and very funny 70 minutes of theatre.