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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 Reviews 5 - Cuckooed / Unfaithful / SmallWar / riverrun

Cuckooed -
Traverse Theatre
Four stars
When Mark Thomas' best mate and comrade in arms in exposing
international arms dealers turned out to be a spy, the result was this
very personal show which remains hilariously foresnsic in its exposure
of dodgy corporate practices.

On a filing cabinet lined set, Thomas regales the audience with his
assorted adventures on the frontline with his usual blokeish charm,
about how he and his mate Martin took a coach-load of arms dealers for
a ride, then shows a film of an Indonesian general who admits to
torturing prisoners on camera. Thomas' tactics are both hilarious and
provocative, but where his duplicity is righteous, Martin's becomes
increasingly heart-breaking as footage of other campaigners and close
friends is shown on screens that slide out of the filing cabinets as
the penny slowly starts to drop.

Emma Callander's production navigates Thomas through what in other
hands might end up a dense tale of paranoia, but which becomes instead
both a sad and emotional tale of lost friendship and a fearless two
fingers to the unseen and unelected forces who would usurp democracy.

Unfaithful
Traverse Theatre
Four stars
Betrayal is at the core too of Owen McCafferty's play for the Traverse,
which rips into the dynamics of love, sex and the ebb and flow of
relationships with unflinching honesty. When fifty-something Tom tells
his wife Joan how he was picked up in a hotel bar by Tara, a brash
young woman half his age, the chain of events it sets off have major
ramifications for all involved, including Peter, the smooth young
escort who is used to making women feel special.

Rather than explode into a torrent of mid-life crisis self-loathing,
however, Tom and Joan are shaken from their domestic torpor and
reminded they're alive even as they recognise the absurdity of their
lot. The excitement Tara craves is out there somewhere, and even Peter
learns to feel again.

Rachel O'Riordan sets her vivid and brutal production on Gary McCann's
symbolically revolving set of anonymous grey rooms in which
McCafferty's characters can talk openly and freely. With each scene
punctuated by the piercing electronic stabs of Debra Salem's score, the
performances from Benny Young, Cara Kelly, Amiera Darwish and Owen
Whitelaw are electric in this candid look at the everyday extremes of
emotional exposure.

SmallWar
Traverse Theatre
Four stars
The horrors of the First World War may be the focus of this year's
forthcoming Edinburgh International Festival, but Belgian
writer/performer Valentijn Dhaenens gets in there first with this solo
follow-up to last year's Bigmouth. Forming part of this year's Big in
Belgium season, SmallWar is a mesmeric and intimate meditation, which
fuses words from real-life victims and survivors of assorted conflicts
with performance and state-of-art video techniques.

It begins with a low chant, before Dhaenens, dressed as a female nurse,
wheels on a video image of a soldier's prostrate and disembodied torso
laid out on a bed. A telephone rings, and a projected spirit of the
soldier climbs from his body to answer, followed over the next hour by
another and another. Through fragments of song and conversations with
mothers, fathers and lovers, these spectral images represent the
comatose soldier's dream-state.

Dhaenen's own production for his SkaGen company and Theatre Royal
Plymouth is a hauntingly intense eighty minutes, which explores both
the poetic fascination with war as well as its casualties. When one of
the soldiers, all played by Dhaenens, with the Nurse the only flesh and
blood portrayal on show, zips himself up into a body-bag as willing
collateral damage, the image is a quiet but devastating symbol of the
horrors of the Somme, Gaza and every battlefield inbetween.

riverrun
Traverse Theatre
Five stars
You could be forgiven for mistaking the slight, silver-haired woman in
the grey suit standing at the side of the stage at the opening of
TheEmergencyRoom's staging of selections from James Joyce's epic novel,
Finnegans Wake, for an usher. When Olwen Fouere moves onto the terra
firma of the stage and behind a microphone, however, this most singular
of performers becomes a force of nature in a thing of beguiling and
transformative beauty.

Revealing Joyce's chewily experimental text as a form of narrative
sound poetry routines, Fouere becomes the river, the lifeforce that
ebbs and flows throughout the book's final section. As she breathes
deep on the rhythms and cadences of every free-form line, she becomes a
mystical sprite, both Prospero and Aerial flowing through some primal,
pulsing estuary destined to turn back on itself.

Watching and listening to Fouere relish such playful material is
thrilling enough, but Alma Kelliher's amplified underscore makes the
experience even richer in a world class invocation that breathes
gorgeous life into an already classic novel.

The Herald, August 8th 2014


ends

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