Exactly Like You, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Things have never been easy for Abby. She doesn’t get on with her mum, she’s didn’t do well in school, she drifts from one shitty job to another without any purpose or goals. She misses her Nana, with whom she would spend long hours writing fantastical stories and listening to music. Nina Simone was their favourite. In Exactly Like You, Lotte Rice tells Abby’s story through a moving, passionate spoken word monologue on losing her way and finding it again.

Rice’s way with words makes Abby funny and relatable, the sort of woman you could sit down with over a pint or a cup of tea and natter about all and sundry going on in the world. She would always have a story or an anecdote to share that would make you laugh or think, or both. Her decision to make Abby a working class, down-at-heel character so expressive and articulate through spoken word is a fantastic choice rather than catering to the stereotype of working class young people as grunting cokeheads who only live for nights out on the piss. The piece is punctuated with soulful renditions of Nina Simone’s songs, effectively breaking up the dense text. Though Abby’s story isn’t remarkable in itself, the mode of telling it is hugely refreshing.

Designer Elouise Farley and lighting designer Zanna Woodgate work together to create a landscape of glowing bookcases, the sort that fit vinyl records. Though simple and subtle, they capture the inner warmth of Abby’s Nana who lived for music of all sorts. They are her memories of her time with Nana, always present and always driving her forward, and a lovely addition that makes the piece feel more polished than a bare stage.

When Abby hits rock bottom after yet another night out drowning her painful memories with too much whiskey, an unexpected helping hand appears. Fortunately, this is not some benevolent, condescending force sent to save her. Abby’s journey is one of reflective self-discovery told in an engaging, lively format with fantastic music to boot.

Exactly Like You runs through 28th August.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

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Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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When fourteen-year-old boy Red starts at a new school after his parents’ divorce, his mum anxiously worries about him making friends. Soon, his mobile is constantly buzzing with texts and he’s out most evenings. Mum’s happy but she only sees the life Red constructs especially for her. Someone, or rather something, else has the privilege of an uncensored view – Red’s mobile. As the vulnerable boy is sexually exploited by his unsatisfied maths teacher, his phone sees everything and narrates the story around the characters’ interactions. This slick ensemble piece by NY theatre company One Year Lease seamlessly merges writing styles, design and physical theatre to tell a dream-like story of abuse veiled as love.

When Red’s maths teacher confiscates his mobile and accidentally takes it home with her instead of her own phone, she begins a downward spiral of communication that quickly becomes personal. Red’s parents separation is far from pleasant, and his teacher’s boyfriend is an unemployed layabout, with vague dreams of designing apps. This combination fosters a relationship where the teacher and the student inappropriately confide in each other, and she does nothing to stop it.

Suspicion helps propel the action upwards towards a climactic end, but a lack of consequence in Kevin Armento’s resolution is as disturbing as the story itself. The phone as narrator is a great device – it’s present enough to add context and framing, but is not overused to the point of becoming a gimmick. Abstract movement incorporating versatile set pieces adds a striking, dynamic visual and a disconnect from reality appropriate to a forbidden relationship. A live musical score by Estelle Bajou enhances the surrealism of the staging.

Mathematical equations coldly explain how their illicit affair develops, and minimalist design in black and white juxtaposes the intricacies of the complex lives that collide so inappropriately. Though the script avoids blatant condemnation of the relationship, Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally is a striking blend of visual and verbal storytelling.

Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally runs through 28th August.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

In Fidelity, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Rob Drummond and his wife Lucy are celebrating their fifteenth anniversary. As a gift to her, he made a show where two single audience members have the opportunity to go on a first date there and then in the hope of finding the sort of love he has with Lucy. Though the bulk of the production centres around the selected couple on stage, there is plenty of audience interaction as we guide them down the path of getting to know each other. Part TED talk, part talk show, part slumber party, In Fidelity is as informative as it is heartwarming and fun.

Drummond’s extensive research on brain activity, hormones and psychology drives the framework around the first date and is consistently present throughout the show. The pop-science is easy to understand and his presentation style makes this content all the more engaging. After a series of questions he selects the two audience members who will have their first date, the focus becomes on facilitating the introduction of these two people. Each performance will undoubtedly be different and have varying degrees of successful matchmaking, but this makes it all the more exciting.

There’s a gleeful voyeurism that In Fidelity satisfies and even though Drummond gives the audience and the pair on their date quite a lot of freedom, he keeps a tight grip on discussion and interaction so it never feels that he will lose control of the show’s progression. This restriction ensures that everyone in the room feels safe, and its remarkable how quickly people feel comfortable answering very personal questions about their love life. Drummond’s onstage persona is warm and strong, a great balance that encourages the audience to open up. His incorporation of personal anecdotes, adventures in the research process and his own relationship’s journey also help.

The show ends happily the day I see it, with the couple clearly having some degree of chemistry between them. Even if that doesn’t happen, Drummond ends with some fantastic news of his own, leaving the audience with a warm, fuzzy feeling as they leave the theatre. This theatrical experiment is a wonderful exploration of form and its benevolence is a wonderful thing to be a part of.

In Fidelity ends 28th August.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.