Review: Greater Belfast – Traverse, Edinburgh

First published in The Times, Friday August 26 2016

Four Stars

In the long-running story of the United Kingdom’s constitutional make up and future, Northern Ireland is often treated as a footnote, as though eighteen years of peace have rendered the province unworthy of close attention. That situation may be changing, though, at least in cultural terms. Mark Cousins’ fluid documentary meditation on his hometown of Belfast was released earlier this year, and now we have this engaging, multifaceted exploration of the same city and her people from the musician and theatre-maker Matt Regan.

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Review: Solo Date – Assembly George Square, Edinburgh

First published in The Times, August 26 2016

Three Stars

This solo piece from the writer and performer Tsai Pao-Chang packs a lot of ideas into its 50-minute running time. On one level, the show (staged as part of the fringe’s Taiwan Season) is a poignant love story, about a young man grieving for his recently deceased lover. The piece gradually expands, drawing on the myth of Orpheus in the Underworld to speculate about the implications of artificial intelligence on the way we cope with death and grief.

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Review: Us / Them – Summerhall, Edinburgh

First published in The Times, Wednesday August 17 2016

Four Stars

A complaint regularly levelled at theatre inspired by real-life events is that it can often be delivered in a clinically dry, documentary style, as though the subject alone is enough to catch and retain an audience’s attention. One might just as well spend the admission price on a selection of newspapers.

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Review: It Folds – Summerhall, Edinburgh

First published in The Times, Wednesday August 10 2016

Two Stars

The prologue is delivered by a narrator draped in a white sheet, like one of the ghosts from Scooby Doo, but that isn’t the oddest aspect of this collaboration between two of Ireland’s leading performance companies. The dream-like collage that follows includes a sequence in which the front and back ends of a pantomime horse attempt to pull in different directions and the arrival of a choir singing about decomposition. David Lynch would be proud.

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Review: Denton and Me – Summerhall, Edinburgh

First published in The Times, Tuesday August 9 2016

Four Stars

The English pastoral writer Denton Welch was only 33 years old at the time of his death in 1948, and while his work is not as well known as some of his contemporaries (he counted Edith Sitwell and EM Forster among his friends) his influence continues to be felt. Alan Bennett is a fan. The playwright Robert Holman’s drama Making Noise Quietly includes a character based on Welch.

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Review: Lennon: Through a Glass Onion – Assembly Hall, Edinburgh Fringe

First published in The Times, Saturday August 15 2015

Two Stars

John Lennon may long have passed on to the great jam session in the sky but the demand for his music remains insatiable. And so, fresh off the back of a three-month run in New York, this music show-cum-spoken-word performance can sell out a 1,000-seat Fringe venue. And who can argue with that? After all, the appeal of a decent tribute act for audiences deprived of the original artist is an entirely understandable phenomenon of the pop age, even if it’s questionable whether Lennon, had he lived, would still be trawling monotonously through his back catalogue and dwelling on an intriguing, if well-trodden, backstory.

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Review: Swallow – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe

First published in The Times, Tuesday August 11

Four Stars

In a relatively short space of time Stef Smith has established herself as a remarkably diverse and elusive playwright. Having first attracted attention as the writer of human trafficking drama RoadKill, which won an Olivier Award in 2012, her subsequent work includes a site-specific piece focusing on three generations of beekeepers and a decidedly off-centre play in which a married couple cope with their grief at the death of their daughter by endlessly dressing up and performing routines from The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.

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