Festival Theatre

Telephone Booking Fringe 0131 226 0000 International Festival 0131 473 2000 Book Festival 0845 373 5888 Art Festival 0777 169 3470 BABA YAGA BONY LEGS Disappointing multi-sensory adaptation of Russian folktale ●●●●●

to a literal ‘character assassin’ and a violent mime. It’s a bit Wizard of Oz and a little Roald Dahl, and through the many twists and turns of Christopher Harrison’s narrative, there’s evidence of a great imagination at work and a powerful storytelling talent. What’s more, the cast easily switches between their many roles and Beth Cannon in particular excels as the wheezy, repulsive Fat Man, who is forced to overeat to avoid being carried away by a magic balloon.

Yet, amidst this engaging

eccentricity, there’s a lack of fluidity about the production that undermines the story’s potential. And while the twist at the end is clever, a more cohesive middle would ensure it is truly shocking. (Yasmin Sulaiman) Underbelly, 08445 458 252, until 22 Aug (not 17), 1.45pm, £6.50–£10 (£8–£9).

STAND BY YOUR VAN An endurance test . . . for the audience ●●●●●

Stand By Your Van is essentially an updating of Horace McCoy’s They Shoot Horses Don’t They?, which focused on participants in a dance marathon during the great depression. In this version a disparate group of characters gathers to participate in a US-style Touch the Truck competition where the last one with their hands on the Nissan’s body wins the keys and, potentially, a boost to their flagging self-esteem. Gradually stories emerge, and

characters, the majority of them two- dimensional contemporary archetypes: wannabe WAG, Bible basher, bejewelled mockney, boorish Scotsman and gormless Welshman among them. We learn of their demons and dreams in extended soliloquies, then, one by one, they’re eliminated from the game and disappear from the show. The problem doesn’t lie solely with

the thin characterisations. The

Greeted outside the theatre with bread and gooseberry jam, those ‘scared of the dark’ are advised to leave. Those willing to take the risk are led into a darkened room, where the actors’ unmoving shapes are semi-visible. The dark is full of our expectations, ready to believe (as promised in the flyer) that this ‘unique experience’ will ‘challenge [our] imaginations and senses’ . . .

What follows is rather a disappointment.

Two voices moving unseen around the audience narrate the journey of little Masha through a big forest. The ghoulish characters in Masha’s story join the narrators in loudly-chanted refrains. Verbal repetition suggesting a resistance to the forward flow of ‘worldly’ time works well when the cast chants in unison. However, when a single member shouts something different over the top of the other voices usually something important to the advancement of the plot it’s often difficult to make out.

Showers of breadcrumbs, smelly

smoke and feet-tickling all feature in the telling. But the multi-sensory impact of the play could be greater. While my ear drums were enthusiastically attended to, my nasal passages and taste-buds felt neglected. More smoke, more jam and bolder groping, please. (Griselda Murray Brown) Sweet Heart, 208 0028, until 16 Aug, 3pm, £8 (£7).

LAST NIGHT THINGS HAPPENED . . . Macabre tales excite but lack fluidity ●●●●● The Underbelly’s low ceilinged Belly Button venue is an ideal setting for SUDS’ twisted, at times macabre tale of a boy’s journey home. The audience is greeted by the rhythmic sharpening of knives as the central character ‘Boy’ wakes up in a human abattoir and encounters several eccentric characters on his travels, from a husband and wife fused at the chest


ERNEST AND THE PALE MOON Spellbinding gothic horror ●●●●●

Writer Oliver Lansley has once again reached into his wonderfully twisted mind for this dark gem. After beguiling and terrifying children in equal measure with macabre fairytales in The Terrible Infants in 2007 and 2008, his company, Les Enfants Terribles, is back with an adult scare. Taking inspiration from Hitchcock’s Rear Window and the Brothers

Grimm before they were Disneyfied, this fully-fledged horror spectacle follows the desires of three occupants of an apartment block, each with a penchant for looking out the window and falling in love with some unattainable object of desire. As we all know, in the rules of the horror genre, this can only lead to bad things, in this case jealousy, rage and madness.

Teaming up with director Emma Earle for her physical and visual

storytelling nous, the four principal actors employ an inventive range of onstage effects to conjure an immersive world in which to play out this parable. As the actors slip in and out of roles (donning different costumes, instruments or props) the narrative shifts between the present and the past and the perspective jumps from one character to the next with ease. As the characters’ lives intersect, the framework of a gothic horror story provides escalating tension, as well as the requisite twists and turns, until the stage is awash with (imaginery) blood and audiences’ hearts are in their mouths.

It takes a skilled company to transport an audience into such an unsettling and complete world and then bundle them back safely into the ‘real’ one. The safe, if spooky, hands of Lansley and his equally talented cast have the power to manipulate imaginations as easily as they turn a cello and a shawl into an utterly convincing sleeping woman, and forge a complex, self-contained experience that, once over, feels like a half- remembered, lingering dream. (Suzanne Black) Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, until 31 Aug (not 19), 2.20pm, £8–£9 (£6.50–£7.50).

staging, in the vast Pleasance Grand, is all wrong for what is actually a fairly intimate piece of theatre. The intention, presumably, is to draw the audience to the edge of their seats as the game progresses, but the script is simply too long-winded to generate any tangible excitement. (Allan Radcliffe)

Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, until 31 Aug (not 18, 25), 7.40pm, £10. For everything you need to know about all the Festivals visit www.list.co.uk/festival