A Rundown of the Roundabout: Six Shows in the Paines Plough Programme, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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by Laura Kressly

The Paines Plough Roundabout is the most reliable, new writing venues at the fringe. With a collection of work that represents the width and breadth of the UK both geographically and thematically, this year’s offerings are universally strong. From a family musical to a one-man show about a stalker, and everything in between, there is a great selection of shows for audiences looking for new work in a great venue that tours around Britain.

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Foiled, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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It’s a big day at Bleach for the Stars. The Welsh salon has been nominated salon of the year by Clip Advisor, and dim-but-enthusiastic manageress Sabrina has a lot to do to prepare, like fill out the form to nominate the salon for the award and find money to pay the administration fee. Fed up junior stylist Tanisha does her best to pander to Sabrina’s whims and half-truths, but as the end-of-day deadline for the application looms and a last minute “celebrity” client arrives, Sabrina struggles to keep the business running to the standard that her dad, the owner, expects.

Foiled takes place after hours in a working hair salon, adding a genuine site-specific element to a script that draws on several styles of text-based comedy to entertain its audience. Puns, slapstick, one-liners and Sabrina’s regular misspeaking keep the laughs coming, and two scenarios that raise the stakes drive the action forward. There’s a token sprinkling of musical theatre numbers that feel a bit out of place, but help break up the action nicely.

The intertwining sitcom-esque scenarios hover on the verge of messiness, but writers Beth Granville (who also plays Sabrina) and David Charles keep just enough order in the story for it to not get lost. Staging is a challenge here with the actors racing up and down the narrow salon and sightlines oaccasionally blocked, but the salon is small enough that it’s always easy to hear the dialogue.

Though insubstantial and silly on the surface, Foiled makes pretty powerful comments on social mobility, class and privilege. Tanisha and Sabrina come from very different backgrounds and financial situations which, combined with the two primary plot threads manage to to not feel crowbarred. Foiled is a good laugh, well performed and has a lot to say.

Foiled runs through 29th 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.

Ugly Lovely, Old Red Lion

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It’s Shell’s 26th birthday and she’s not happy. Her boyfriend Carl is AWOL and probably banging Smelly Kelly, her nan died recently, and she wants to leave Wales for the big city of Liverpool. Her best mate Tash is trying to convince her to stay, but her reasons are far from convincing. Shell is miserable, frustrated and angry. She feels the pull of adventure, but the tug of the sea she knows so well is strong, too. Shell tries to decide what to do as best she can – chatting with the urn that holds her nan’s ashes, going out clubbing and leaving her son Kieran with her mum. Ugly Lovely snapshots down-at-heel but aspirational Swansea with well-rounded characters who are excellently performed within a promising script, but it has a somewhat unsatisfying resolution.

This is writer Ffion Jones’ first play, and as debuts go, it’s a a rather good one. She’s built a sound narrative structure, though some trimming wouldn’t go amiss. The plot isn’t complex enough to warrant the current length or the interval, though too much cutting would rush the climax and dénouement. She has written detailed, nuanced characters with emotional depth that rally the audience’s support, but this leads to disappointment when Shell ignores her ambitions. Jones has an aptitude for sharp dialogue and dark humour, and there are some brilliant comedic moments within the characters’ misery.

Jones plays Shell, endowing the character with emotional truth and lived experience. Sophie Hughes as her best friend Tash is her cheerful sidekick, maintaining a wonderful sense of optimism despite an abusive home life. Oliver Morgan-Thomas rounds out the cast as their laddish schoolmate Robyn who is also doing the best he can to get by, though isn’t the nicest of individuals. His introduction leads to a brutal conflict and adds variation to the individual scenes’ structures, and his rough charm brings a great energy to the dynamic created by the women.

Nikolai Ribnikov’s direction is smooth and instinctive, and Lizzy Leech’s set enhances the gritty naturalism of their day-to-day lives. There is an awkward park bench that doubles as a couch, and the exposed toilet sits unused and exposed in a corner for most of the play, but adds additional dinginess.

This is a great little play that is remarkably polished for a new writer; it shows much promise even though it could use some tweaking. Jones is clearly a skilled theatre maker, and the rest of the creative team serves her script excellently. Production company Velvet Trumpet did exceedingly well in choosing this script, and Jones is certainly one to watch as both an actor and writer.

Ugly Lovely runs through 16 July.

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.