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Our theatre editor picks his way through the highlights of this year’s fringe. \"Jortis: Steve Cramer

s it wrong to think that something is wrong'.’ Isn‘t it

far easier to believe in nothing than it is to believe in

something'.’ If one does believe in something. does it make one enslayed. automatically. to some paranoiac grand narratiye'.’ These questions have startlingly enforced themsclyes upon audiences this fringe. eschewing the tendency in recent work to retreat to the inner self.

This ‘scarch for the wierdo inside y'ourself' stuff is still \isible on the fringe. as is that escapist tendency presented by the endless conyeyor belt of pleasant little magic realist companies telling us stories about myth. childhood. play and such like. This kind of work has been preyalent for a long time. but I think the stories well remember on the fringe of 2003 are of a different kind.

t'nquestionably. recent t'S military expansionism has a part to play in an upsurge of political drama. but the eyents of the last year or so haye opened tip far wider issues. much closer to home. In English .lourntjrs to... l’leasance ('ourtyardl. writer Steye Waters e\p|ores the lost generation who might well haye been attending the psycho dramas and magic realist fantasies of the last two decades. The W dysfunctional couple at the heart of the play are the kind of folk who felt they made a difference by yoting for Blair. but thank (iod for the Bl'l’A card. An encounter with a working class girl exposes the fallacies of their passiye. self-obsessed liberalism.

'l‘he nihilism that occurs as a result of this can be seen in the strong Atistralian drama. The Return teeeee. (' (‘hambers St). a tale of Violence and class disruption set on a train. Another umnediated working class \‘oice appears in (io/t teeeee. l’leasance Dome). This powerful duologue has its ned poet characters assualting London’s South Batik. and speaking with their own \oices.

As for terrorism itself. one of two highlights of the fringe (the other later) was I’ugilist Specialist teeeee. l’leasance Courtyard). the Riot (iroup's magnificent

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commentary on the current l'S militarism. showing four soldiers on an assassination mission. Adriano Shaplin's dense and stunning text would frighten the ay'erage British theatre director to death. yet these enterprising Americans have deyised a means by which a complex and aphoristic language is conyeyed with spartan simplicity. .\'ow we're told that form should always

preyail oyer content in theatre. yet the com'entionality of

form of Vanessa Badham's ('unuirillu teeee . (’ ('hambers St). a social drama that warrants comparison to 'l‘reyor (irifliths' work of the 70s. is no impediment to the urgency of a theme that tells us that terrorism comes about as a result of denying people a Voice. So too. lienry' Naylor's engaging and very linglish satire. I'i/uling Iiin [.(ltlt’II teeee . (iilded Balloon 'l’eyiot). inherits a form that goes back to Swift in opening a discussion of the media coyerage of the Afghan conflict. i suppose if you think it's uncool for art to state an

opimionated case. you might not like these plays. but if

so. is it you. or these writers who are repressed'.’

There were also pieces outwith comfortable categories. like Rick Bland’s 'I'ln'i'k leeee . Jongleurs() v- the quirky and engaging tale of a Village idiot figure who finds redemptions unayailable to more sophisticated folk. Tim ('rouch‘s .ily' Arm (eeee . 'l'rayersel represents a po—faced and inyentiy'e satire of the modern art world.

The beautiful and compelling 'I'lios'i' Ify'r's'. ’I‘liut .lloutlt (00000. 33 Abercrombie PI) is the other singular experience on the fringe. (iridiron‘s site specific piece examines lost love. and the psychological damage it does. and boasts one of two great performances on this year's fringe from the splendid (’ait [lots The other was surely l'raser Ayres' bewildered Nigel in Henry Adam's ’I'lu' I’t'o/tlt' Next Door teeee . 'l‘rayersel. a thoroughly enjoyable state of the nation play. The story of said young man‘s encounter with a dodgy cop in pursuit of his terrorist brother is a lamentation on lost community.

Perhaps. then. this fringe will be remembered as the one that disproyed the cliche about political art being. of necessity. bad art. There‘s a difference between haying something to say and preaching. and maybe the perior‘atiy'e term l’(‘ was inyented to keep us from doing what we know is right. There's just good art and bad. and political art can be either. just like other art.

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Late Festival favourites

I These Eyes, That Mouth Brilliant visual theatre with a haunting script and music. Grid Iron‘s production about lost love and psychological decline boasts a splendid central performance from Cait Davis. Don't miss it. 32 Abercrombie Place, 226 0000, until 25 Aug, times vary. £10 (£8).

I Agua Viva This beautiful production from an international company examines the issues that surround love. ls true affection alone enough to redeem us? Find out in this moving production. C Central, Carlton Hotel, 0870 701 5105. until 24 Aug, 8pm, £8.50 (£7.50).

I The Damage Paul Sellar's epic poem with prose stretches is performed with skill and great verbal dexterity by Andrew Dickens. A story of darts. corruption and gangsterism, it's a hard man's tale with a soft underbelly. Gilded Balloon Cavern, 226 2151, until 25 Aug, £7.50—8. 50 (£7. 50—£6.50).

I Titus Andnonicus KAOS theatre presents this bloody, and at times darkly humorous. tragedy, in which political and personal betrayal are the norm. It‘s not difficult to see the parallels with modern life. Gateway Theatre, 317 3939. until 25 Aug, 3pm, £10 (£9).

I Brilliant! The Blinding Enlightenment of Nikolai Tesla This story, br0ught to us from Canada, is all the more fascinating because it's true. The obscure immigrant, who made some of the great advances in electrical technology, is a fascinating study in the battle between small men and mighty institutions. C Central, 0870 701 5105, until 24 Aug, 12.30pm, £8.50 (£7. 50);C, Chambers St, 0870 701 5105, until 24 Aug, 6. 45pm, £8.50 (£7.50).

I The Return Brilliant Australian drama about two thugs intimidating fellow passengers on a stranded train. Strong social commentaries lie under the text. C, Chambers St, 0870 701 5 705. mm '24 Aug, 6 459m, 5850 (5/50),