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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015 Theatre Reviews 4 - An Oak Tree - Four stars / Swallow - Four stars / A Girl is A Half-Formed Thing - Four stars

Traverse Theatre
Suspension of disbelief is a wonderful thing. Just ask the woman in the Traverse Theatre audience for the opening performance of the tenth anniversary production of An Oak Tree, Tim Crouch's meditation on truth and artifice performed by Crouch and a different actor at every show. So convinced was the woman by Crouch's impersonation of a bad pub function room hypnotist asking for volunteers that she gamely stepped forward, despite Crouch having already pointed out that he was only pretending to be a hypnotist and on no account should they respond to his request.

In a way, this incident is a perfect illustration of what An Oak Tree is dealing with, and Crouch dealt with it beautifully before his actual foil, in this case actress Aoife Duffin, who is appearing elsewhere at the Traverse in the Corn Exchange's production of A Girl is A Half-formed Thing, stepped up from the audience having never seen the script of An Oak Tree until that moment.

The story that unravels concerns a man whose daughter was killed by the hypnotist, whose shambles of a show he attends and takes part in, making his identity known. With Crouch giving Duffin instructions throughout, the layer on layer of meta-realities Crouch conjures up puts flesh and blood on an idea that begins with make-believe but which transcends it to open the doors of perception beyond.

Runs until August 16

The three women in Swallow are a mess of emotional bits and pieces of one form or another. Rebecca's just been dumped by her long term partner, Sam is finding out exactly what gender she is, and Rebecca's upstairs neighbour Anna has cooped herself up indoors for two years, has smashed up all her mirrors and squats in her room like a bird.

Over the course of the next eighty minutes, Stef Smith's poetic treatise on love, pain and everything it takes to smash out all the badness shows the extreme measures that are sometimes required to take leap beyond yourself and remind yourself you're alive. Orla O'Loughlin's Traverse company production leaves its performers as exposed as the lines they're speaking on designer Fred Meller's minimalist set.

Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Sam, Anita Vettesse as Rebecca and Emily Wachter as Anna let rip with a set of fearless performances pulsed throughout with heart and soul. Although the three women only connect fleetingly in Smith's skewed narrative,, it's somehow enough of a connection for each to learn how to feel again in a beautifully composed call to arms for emotional outlaws to take on the world once more on their own gloriously messy terms.

Runs until August 30.

It's not easy getting through to the end of A Girl is A Half-Formed Thing, Annie Ryan's adaptation for her Corn Exchange company of Eimear McBride's novel. That's not because the solo performance by Aoife Duffin as a troubled young woman is anything less than stunning. It's just that this first person litany of a dysfunctional and doomed existence is so relentless that it's at times almost too hard to bear.

Yet, as Duffin stands on a stark and unadorned stage, her rolling, self-destructive poetry becomes a touching display of a fragmented life told without any fuss or hysteria, but with a resignation made all the more harrowing by its understatement as it unveils a devastating life. The wilful minimalism of Ryan's production is unflinching, but it is Duffin's performance as the girl that is most extraordinary of all in a fearless display of back-street tragedy rendered as something that transfixes even as it leaves you despairing for the young girl's fate.

Runs until August 30.

The Herald, August 17th 2015



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