All That Is Wrong – Traverse until Aug 12th – 4 stars
Mess – Traverse until Aug 26th – 4 stars Blink – Traverse until Aug 26th – 4 stars Tam O' Shanter – Assembly Hall until Aug 26th – 4 stars I, Tommy – Gilded Balloon until Aug 27th – 4 stars A teenage girl and a young man sit on a stage with only a blackboard, a couple of overhead projectors and some pocket-sized mobile video cameras for comfort. A silent sideshow displays images of various forms of protest culture which are becoming increasingly prevalent as a younger generation become politicised. Without a word, the girl starts chalking out words about who she is, and what's going on in her head. As her scrawls become more urgent, it becomes clear this isn't teenage angst. Rather, this young woman is taking on the world. As with previous shows by Belgian iconoclasts Ontrorend Goed, All That is Wrong does what it says on the tin. Here, however, it suggests a coming to terms with a world beyond hardcore partying. The result in Alexander Devriendt's production is a kind of Fluxus meditation on the hard facts of life, not so much performed by Koba Ryckewaert and Zach Hatch as lived in real time. They may be stating the obvious, but their philosophy of rubbing it all out and starting again is driven home in powerfully mesmeric fashion. One might think an autobiographical play about one woman's struggle with anorexia to be similarly troubling. This isn't the case with Mess, however, in which Caroline Horton plays a fantasy version of herself in a piece of absurdist musical cabaret that laughs its way through its heroine's plight. Beneath a pink-lit parasol on a tower of towels, Josephine holds court like Samuel Beckett's Winnie in Happy Days. Josephine is doted on by Boris, an over-eager boy in a Biggles cap, played by Hannah Boyde. Watching over all this is a corkscrew-haired keyboardist who is both accompanist and chorus. Commissioned by Battersea Arts Centre and Parabola Arts Centre and produced by the Warwick-based China Plate company, Horton's play is relayed with a quintessentially English frothiness that channels Angela Carter by way of The Comic Strip's Famous Five pastiche. Alex Swift's production lends an oddball air to proceedings in what turns out to be a wryly self-deprecating piece which, as Horton's alter-ego Josephine acknowledges, is far from over yet. Love is strange in Blink, Phil Porter's duologue between Jonah and Sophie, a pair of not entirely ordinary twenty-somethings who become intimate via a form of virtual voyeurism after the loss of their parents forces them to leave their very sheltered nests. With the pair living on top of each other, Porter's pair of inter-twining and lovingly penned monologues are transformed by director Joe Murphy's bright staging into a sad, funny and bitter-sweet delight. As Jonah and Sophie go through a crash course in romance – he tries too hard, she's overwhelmed - Harry McEntire and Rosie Wyatt heighten the lovers quirks without ever laughing at them. Make no mistake, though. Porter hasn't written a rom-com, and there are no real happy endings in this beautifully realised collaboration between Soho Theatre and the ever inventive nabokov company. What there is is a delightful insight into how people function outside the norm, and how two people can find, then lose each each other in the most peculiar ways. There's something about Communicado Theatre's rambunctious reinvention of Robert Burns' Tam O'Shanter that works much better in an Edinburgh environment than it did when it premiered in Perth three years ago. Director Gerry Mulgrew's all-singing all-dancing production subsequently proves as intoxicating as the liqeur that fuels the hapless Tam before he and his mare Meg stagger into the winter night where witches dwell. In this recast version, Sandy Nelson leads an eleven-strong ensemble through a ribald series of choreographed tableaux that burst into life via Malcolm Shields' furious choreography and Jon Beales' strident live folk score. With barely a word spoken in the first twenty minutes, these physical and musical elements combine for a vivid evocation of Burns which is as libidinous as it was no doubt intended. There are some witty contemporary touches in Mulgrew's script, and if things flag slightly in the extended bar-room scene, once Tam gets in the saddle it becomes one of the most energetic shows in town. Nelson is wonderfully deadpan, while Pauline Knowles makes a fine Meg as the pair gallop off into the night in costume designer Kenny Miller's all purpose tartan coat. The witches too are a relentless presence, especially as led by newcomer Courtnay Collins, who works her other-worldly apparel for all its worth. From one randy Scottish rake to another in I, Tommy, Ian Pattison's decidedly partisan comic version of the rise and fall of former Socialist firebrand Tommy Sheridan, whose life and work turned into a real life laughing stock after flying too close to the Sun. Pattison has taken Sheridan's former comrade Alan McCombe's account of an affair which ripped the left in Scotland asunder as his starting point. As played by Colin McCredie, McCombe narrates us through Sheridan's downfall, as writ large by some devastating one-liners delivered via Des McLean's pitch-perfect impression of the perma-tanned ex MSP, . The many women in Sheridan's life appear too, including a cutting portrayal of Gail Sheridan as a grotesque diva. While Sacha Kyle's production is still a tad rough around the edges, it's already en route to becoming as outrageous in its slaying of sacred cows as anything by Dario Fo. Watching I, Tommy with several people who testified against him sitting behind me gave things an extra edge to a real-life mix of tragedy and farce that one suspects has yet to reach its full conclusion. The logical next step, of course, is to follow the example of Elaine C Smith's recent homage to Susan Boyle, and have Sheridan himself come onstage. Given the stance I, Tommy takes, however, this may be some time coming.
The Herald, August 6th 2012 ends