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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 Reviews 4 - Milk - Traverse Theatre, Four stars / Diary of A Madman - Traverse Theatre, Four stars / My Eyes went Dark - Traverse Theatre, Four stars

Three couples pivot around each other in Milk, Ross Dunsmore's play for the Traverse Theatre company, which receives its world premiere in Orla O'Loughlin's production. Steph and Ash are fourteen and horny as hell. Cyril and May are coming towards the end of their lives and with a lifetime of togetherness to protect them from the world outside. Between the two are Danny and Nicole, who are expecting their first baby and flying blind into an abyss of responsibility no-one prepared them for.

Out of assorted moments of crisis, lives are disrupted and possibly changed forever in a play that reaches to the heart of how social isolation can prompt desperately extreme responses. Dunsmore's dialogue ripples with the uneasy exchanges of fractured lives trying to find a connection. Beyond Ash's troubling craving for human contact and Nicole's withdrawal, it is May and Cyril, beautifully played by Ann Louise Ross and Tam Dean Burn, stepping in at the last minute for an indisposed Cliff Burnett, who instinctively understand how love survives. The play over-riding message is that if anything resembling community is to survive, we need to care more, both for each other and for everyone else around us.

Runs to August 28

In Al Smith's audacious new take on Diary of A Madman, Gogol's nineteenth century short tale of ordinary madness is reimagined post independence and Brexit referenda South Queensferry, where the iconic shadow of the Forth Road Bridge looms large. Here Pop Sheeran is king, following in a long line of Sheerans who have painted the bridge year in, year out. Pop's world is rocked when university student Matthew White is apprenticed to him for the summer, leaving him no choice but to take on Braveheart's mantle to protect a world where his teenage daughter Sophie may be under threat while her pal Mel appears to be an agent for opposing forces.

Christopher Hayden's Gate Theatre production is peppered throughout with a slew of spoonerisms and Edinburgh Fringe gags, plus a pleasure-seeking Greyfriar's Bobby puppet who ditches the heritage industry's image of a canine cutie forever. Beyond this, Liam Brennan leads a fine five-strong cast, venting all of Pop's hand-me-down prejudices and an all too recognisable fear of otherness that eventually destroys him. In a post Brexit climate, it taps into how anyone made to feel impotent enough to rob them of their identity, will lash out with whatever fantasy deity can justify it.

Runs to August 28

There are times in My Eyes Went Dark when it's hard to have sympathy for Nikolai Koslov, the high-profile Ossetian architect whose wife and children are killed in a head-on collision between two aeroplanes. We first see Nikolai clutching high into a void of thin air at the opening of Matthew Wilkinson's ice-cool two-hander, first seen at the Finborough Theatre in London in 2015.

On a bare stage apart from two plastic chairs, the audience is privy to the inner workings of Nikolai's psyche as the action moves between timelines in a structure that rewinds to gradually put together an emotional jigsaw. With Cal MacAninch as the hyper-successful Nikolai and Thusitha Jayasundera playing all the other parts, the play lays bare the extremes of a process – from shock, awe and despair, to anger, revenge and some kind of healing – writ large in such a rarefied world. In the end, we also see the decision that set what follows in motion in a tightly-wound production of power and consequence.

Runs to August 28

The Herald, August 16th 2016

ends

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