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Edinburgh Festival Fringe Review 1 - Heads Up - Summerhall, Four Stars / The Interference - C Chambers Street - Four stars / Tell Me Anything - Summerhall, Three stars

There is something Prospero-like about Kieran Hurley when he sits at a table at the centre of his performing world in Heads Up, the Glasgow-based auteur's story-telling close-up of four very different lives closing in on themselves just as the world is about to end. It's something about the way he conjures up some of the city's eight million criss-crossing stories, the lit candle in front of him the only beacon left for his creations to cling onto.

There is something spiritual too going on as Hurley taps out the alchemic pulses of MJ McCarthy's touch sensitive soundscape like a barefoot tabletop prophet overseeing his imaginary creations. The language is raw, the experiences of his characters transcendent. This is the case whether it's the off the rails futures speculator, the potty-mouthed schoolgirl, the coked-up rock star and would-be messiah who finds new life through crashing and burning, and the fast food worker who is reborn.

In a show that fleshes out some of the authorial techniques Hurley first developed in his breakthrough show, Beats, the experience of listening as much as watching feels as intense as any everyday apocalypse in a piece that burns with a dystopian terror that sounds very much like now.

At first glance, the opening tableaux of The Interference looks like the youthful twelve-strong ensemble onstage are preparing for a giant group hug in Cathy Thomas-Grant's Pepperdine Scotland production of Lynda Radley's play. For the young woman surrounded by such a huddle, however, the attention on her is an even more unwelcome by-product of an action not of her making.

Karen's rape by campus football star Smith initially seems like a cut and dried case until assorted authorities conspire to make Karen feel like the guilty party, while Smith is afforded protection and celebrity status. Radley's relentless cut-up of opinion, gossip and testimony channelled through TV phone-ins, cross-country Skype calls and online trolling exposes how social media can travel like wildfire in such a situation, picking up cheer-leaders for both sides as it goes. With a couple of perma-grinning talking heads commentating on the action, this is rape trial as spectator sport in all its frat-boy grotesquerie.

In this latest collaboration between Pepperdine University, and Scotland-based writers, Thomas-Grant's

committed cast burl through all this with ferocious drive, switching characters in an instant in a damning indictment of a warped establishment protecting its own by any means necessary.

In Tell Me Anything, David Ralfe walks through the audience with a full size blow-up dolphin on his back onto a stage area patterned with a maze-like construction of cardboard tubes. While this makes for quite an entrance, it's not as abstract as it first looks in Ralfe's solo piece of autobiographical confessional. Rather, as he engages brightly with the audience on concepts of unrequited love, what initially looks like a reminiscence of teenage kicks morphs into a far more painful rites of passage as Ralfe looks back at his fifteen year old self.

The cause of that pain is his girlfriend Kate. David and Kate can't keep their hands off each other at the start of this seventy-five minute meditation on how one person's illness can leave its mark on others. And when Kate's eating disorder gets the better of them both, suddenly there's more to life than snogging in Christopher Harrisson's production for the On the Run company. Ralfe's initially engaging demeanour soon gives way to an unravelling of emotional baggage harnessed by the subject's seriousness in a piece that's not afraid to do its growing up in public.

The Herald, August 9th 2016
ends

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