Basic Mountain, Venue 106, Hill Street, Edinburgh
One of the most exciting elements of the Edinburgh Fringe is that once in a while you will chance upon something unexpectedly brilliant: and this year, that accolade has to go to Phantom Owl’s superb production of Fault Lines, by Stephen Belber. Tucked away in a hard-to-find venue on Hill Street, the play, directed by Matthew Lillard (yes, that Matthew Lillard!) is a slice of intense Americana, superbly acted by a four strong cast to (at least on the night we visited) a frustratingly small crowd. This is powerful stuff that deserves to be seen by the biggest audience possible.
Bill (Dean Chekvala) and Jim (George Griffith) meet for drinks in a small room at the back of their local bar. Once the best of buddies, they haven’t seen each other in a while and are looking to reconnect. Bill is now happily married while Jim is still living a carefree life, enjoying commitment-free encounters with members of the opposite sex whenever the opportunity arises. The acting here is completely naturalistic; so much so you feel like you’re being given a sneak peek at two real-life characters. The mood changes with the arrival of a boorish stranger called Joe (Steve Connell). He quickly interposes himself into the conversation, insists on buying a round of drinks and starts asking inappropriate questions, many of which seem to revolve around Bill’s wife, Jess, (Zibby Allen) who is expected to turn up at any minute. The structure here is reminiscent of An Inspector Calls, though I have to say, this is a far more dynamic piece of theatre.
As the tension steadily builds, so the story becomes ever more intriguing and the rug is expertly yanked from under our feet, again and again. Who exactly is Joe? What is his motivation? And how does he know so much about the two strangers whose private party he has just gatecrashed? The explanation is something you surely won’t see coming.
If you enjoy riveting theatre, I urge you by whatever means possible to find your way to the oddly named Basic Mountain venue on Hill Street – you’ll have to look hard for it because it really isn’t easy to spot – and catch this superb production before the cast pack up their gear and head back to the USA, muttering darkly about wasted opportunities. There are shows currently playing to rammed houses that aren’t a patch on this little gem. There are more plays by the same company at this venue and you can be sure we’ll be seeing them, because Fault Lines is the first five star production we’ve seen at this year’s festival. Miss it and weep!