Troilus and Cressida, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

(c) National Trust, Petworth House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

There is hardly any Shakespeare at the fringe that isn’t dramatically altered in some way or another. Re-contextualisations abound, as does new work that’s derivative from a story or character. West Country-based Shakespeare on the Level’s Troilus and Cressida is neither of these. It has no gimmicks and no determinedly modern concepts. It is merely the text staged in a clear fashion that serves Shakespeare’s stories, with few divergences. This is not an innovative production and has a few faults, but is remarkably refreshing in its lack of fringe-ness.

Some cross-gendered casting is a welcome choice to improve balance between men and women. There are only three women in the cast of twelve so parity is hardly achieved, but the women in the cast also have the chance to play male roles. Director Kate Littlewood also makes Achilles openly gay, choosing to wile away the days in his tent with his lover, Patroclus. This is a lovely choice that aligns the play with its Greek and Roman roots and doesn’t disrupt the story.

The performances are mixed, with Susie Kimnell’s Helen and Louis Bowen’s Troilus standing out as particularly strong. There are some weak verse speakers who break up the rhythm, others aren’t fully connected to the text and either shout it or approach it too casually.

Littlewood takes a flowing, eastern approach to her costume design, though the Romans and the Greeks are very similar in style. With the multi-rolling necessary to cover the twenty-three characters and varied acting ability, a stronger visual indication of which camp is which would be welcome. She sets Troy in the round, and skilfully uses the diagonals so the audience can always see, and fight director Tom Jordan’s choreography also suits the space.

The story is cut down to a manageable length, maintains clarity and has a clear design concept. Though not a particularly fringe approach to Shakespeare, this is a well-staged production with a cast of emerging talent.

Troilus and Cressida runs through 27th 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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Two Man Show, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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RashDash are angry. Like, fucking furious level of angry. They’re fed up of patriarchal language and gender stereotypes that limit both men and women from expressing themselves honestly. So they made a show about it. Two Man Show has three women in it, music and dance, nudity and a lot of explosive energy. It’s part science lecture, part role play and part celebration of who we are without others’ judgment and categorisation based on gender expression. It’s a fantastic, “fuck yeah” explosion of pretty skirts, masculinity, tits, cockfighting and nonconformity. It’s also pretty bloody brilliant.

Out of an opening tirade on equality in the dawn of human history, Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen take on the roles of two brothers, Dan and John. They don’t get on, arguing almost constantly about caring responsibilities for their terminally ill father. Their fighting builds in between movement and dance sequences of surprising intimacy and tenderness.

The culmination to Dan and John’s tension is a fantastic eruption of John’s frustrated masculinity feeling limited by “man things”. His words twists through Abbi’s, the man-woman who is happy in her own skin but doesn’t really suit any of that girly shit. Helen’s feminine contrast powerfully reinforces the importance of choice and freedom and that a woman doesn’t need to be butch to be a feminist and a man can express his feelings and do “feminine things” without his heterosexual maleness being threatened.

Greenland and Goalen’s performances are endowed with conviction and energy, and both are skilled physical performers who can convincingly play men, even with their breasts unveiled. They are accompanied by a musician, who backs them up with unfettered tunes of frustration and celebration.

This is a truly feminist show. Rather than blaming men, Two Man Show looks at the conventions of language that aids female suppression and acknowledges that men are not served by this system, either. Fabulously sequinned and ferociously opinionated, this is not one to miss.

Two Man Show runs through 27th 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.

Milk, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Everyone has a relationship with food. For some its straightforward, for others it’s complex. Food in terms of nourishment isn’t just that which we eat, either. Love, security, and all sorts of other things make us feel full. In Milk, three generations of couples in the same town negotiate what matters most to them and makes their lives feel complete. This is a slowly burning script that comes into its own towards the end when conflict becomes so high that the six characters lives cross outside of their partner’s. There is some good character detail, but writer Ross Dunsmore’s first play shows promise but needs further development.

Steph and Ash are fourteen. Ash is a fairly typical teen boy, but Steph, from a dysfunctional home, has a pathological need to be sexually desired. When Ash doesn’t satisfy, she finds a new, more dangerous target. Danny and Nicole are young marrieds expecting their first child. When the baby arrives, unforeseen complications and postpartum hormones challenge Nicole’s preconceptions about motherhood and open a divide between the couple. Cyril and May are in their 90s and homebound, too scared of the changing landscape of architecture and aggressive young people to go out. As they fantasise about past Sunday roasts, their hermetic existence takes its toll.

The storylines that Dunsmore unfolds are all believable though in their kinship to real life, they take most of the play to reach any level of compelling conflict. Cyril and May’s story has hardly any, rendering it the least interesting and most forced plotline. Whilst the other two are more dynamic, they are underserved in this intertwining format. The two younger couples could each easily have an entire play devoted to them; to force them all into one feels indecisive in the face of several ideas.

Fred Meller’s design is cold and utilitarian, though has some lovely surprises that are gradually unveiled. Director Orla O’Loughlin delineates the three couple’s worlds well and captures the easy rhythm of Dunsmore’s dialogue without adding any forced stylisation.

Without a doubt, Dunsmore’s couples all have compelling stories to tell (though all are heteronormative, white and skew towards female dependency on men), but the format he uses to tell them is not the most effective. Too much exposition interferes with the empathy for the characters and whilst the ending is a satisfying payoff, the build to it is too little and too late.

Milk 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.