Edinburgh 2021

Myra’s Story


Palais du Variete, Assembly, George Square Gardens, Edinburgh

Myra’s Story is a compelling play, and Fíonna Hewitt-Twamley is perfectly cast, delivering the ninety-minute monologue with wit and aplomb.

Myra’s story is a commonplace tragedy: she’s an alcoholic on the streets of Dublin, drinking to numb herself, to mask her problems. But, in the words of John Irving (and, later, Voice of the Beehive), ‘sorrow floats’ – and Myra soon discovers that she can’t drown her emotions in vodka. Instead, her troubles multiply, and she finds herself homeless, stumbling from hostel to park bench and back again. She’s the woman on the street from whom we avert our collective gaze, but here, in Brian Foster’s play, we are forced to look. To listen. To learn about the person behind the bottle. To see that she is just like us.

Hewitt-Twamley’s performance is flawless; she has a particular gift for eliciting empathy, as well as for delivering an impressive range of other voices. Foster’s writing is strong, and the story matters (it’s wonderful to see that the production has two Edinburgh homelessness charities as partners, namely Social Bite and Steps to Hope).

There’s only one problem here, and it’s the venue.

This is an intimate but popular play, which always poses a conundrum: it’s difficult to find a space that can accommodate a large audience as well as allowing the personal, confidential nature of the material to shine. Some compromise is needed. However, the Palais du Variete is not a compromise: it’s just wrong. It’s a huge brash place, gorgeously mirrored and with a large bar area, perfect for a late night variety show, and utterly wrong for a lunchtime monologue. There’s a party-vibe that seems at odds with the play; this is surely a piece that demands our full attention, but most people are clearly out for a laugh, knocking back pints of beer or glasses of wine, and there are loads of latecomers, trooping past us again and again, obscuring our view. Then there’s the endless trips to the bar and the toilet, causing further disruption, so we keep missing little moments and nuances.

I’m also irritated, I have to admit, by the fact that there are is no mention (beyond a pre-recorded line that everyone talks over) of the fact that masks are still a legal requirement here in Scotland, and that – apart from when people are actually drinking – they should be worn throughout the performance. Almost every other Fringe venue (including other Assembly sites) has someone on the door politely reminding people, and the vast majority comply. Here, it’s ignored, and the audience take their cue from that. It doesn’t feel particularly safe.

So there’s a disconnect between the quality of the play and the quality of the experience. The star rating below is for an excellent script, delivered with consummate skill. But I won’t be going back to the Palais du Variete.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield



theSpaceUK Triplex, Edinburgh

It’s easy to see why Samuel Bailey’s Shook won the 2019 Papatango New Writing Prize, and why it garnered so much attention on its debut. It’s a beautifully written piece, full of warmth and humour: a brutal exposé of a society that condemns some people to the scrapheap almost from birth, and – at the same time – a heartbreakingly intimate tale.

Twisted Corner’s production does the material proud. Cain (Kieran Begley), Ryan (Ryan Stoddart) and Jonjo (William Dron) are young offenders. They’re also young fathers – or they’re about to be. Grace (Rebecca Morgan, who also directs) is their new teacher, running weekly parenting classes, hoping to help them break the cycle, to give their children a better start than any of them ever had – and to give them something to look forward to.

It’s an uphill battle. Of course it is. The odds are stacked against these boys. They have to negotiate so much just to get by: it’s a pitiless life, with obstacles at every turn. There’s a pecking order, and other people’s anger to endure – and that’s just inside. Outside, they know, is a world that doesn’t want them, that never wanted them; what is there to go home to, if they ever do get out?

The direction here is spot on: Morgan creates an atmosphere of absolute authenticity. The performances are nuanced and complex, each character fully realised. It’s emotionally draining – I’m laughing, then crying, then laughing again. Begley, in particular, has me on edge, Cain’s jangly, unpredictable energy making me fearful as well as sad. And all the time, I’m just hoping against hope that the boys will find the happy endings I know will elude them.

This is a stunning piece all round: the writing, direction and performances combine to create something really powerful and yet humbling. What we have here, in the end, is a fascinating examination of masculinity and fatherhood, and a tentative step towards redemption.

I have no criticism. None. This is note-perfect.

5 stars

Susan Singfield



Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

Skank is a surprise. I’m expecting a wry look at Millennial life, and – to some extent – that’s what I get. Clementine Bogg-Hargroves plays Kate, a young woman flitting from one temping job to the next, dreaming of being a writer but hardly ever actually writing anything. She won’t commit to a ‘proper’ job because the thought of it fills her with dread. She has nothing in common with her colleagues, but they seem to like her: she’s funny and sparky, and even has a crush on one of them. But Kate’s real life happens outside the office: in trendy coffee shops and pubs; in too much booze and one-night-stands; in knitting classes and doctor’s appointments.

Ah yes. Doctor’s appointments. Because this isn’t, it turns out, as light as it first seems. It’s a clever realisation of how people conceal their mental health problems. No one in the office can possibly have a clue about how anxious Kate is, all the time, of what her upbeat humour hides. As the play progresses, we see Kate unravel, all the while maintaining that same bubbly persona.

A smear test is the catalyst. An abnormality sends Kate spiralling, her tinnitus is out of control and she doesn’t know what to do. And why is it so bloody hard to recycle a baked beans tin around here?

Bogg-Hargroves truly inhabits the part, which makes sense, as it’s based on her own experience. She’s a charming, engaging performer, easily eliciting laughs from this afternoon’s audience. I cry too, because there is real heart here, and plenty of stuff that resonates. If at times it’s a little too close to home, a little difficult to bear, well, that’s the point, I think. That’s art, doing what art is meant to do.

There’s some lovely direction here (from Bogg-Hargroves and Zoey Barnes). The transformation of Kate’s desk into an examination table is simple and wonderfully offbeat, drawing a laugh all by itself. I like the little bit of puppetry too, and the pre-recorded offstage voices (sound tech by George Roberts) are a quirky and effective touch. (I do wonder, however, why the final voice is different from all the others; apart from this one, they’re all Bogg-Hargroves, who has an impressive range of accents and tones. Is this meant to signify something? If so, I don’t get it.)

Incidentally, the Pleasance Rear Courtyard is my favourite performance space so far this Fringe – the best example of a joyous outside/inside Covid-safe venue I’ve seen. And Skank is a delight too. Make time to see this. It’s a gem.

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Shell Shock


Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh

Shell Shock is an all-too familiar tale. As a society, we fail our military veterans at every turn. We pick them up, often at sixteen years of age (the UK is, apparently, the only country in Europe that routinely recruits under-eighteens), then thrust them into the most dreadful situations. What we ask of them is immense: to live apart from their families, to risk their own lives – and to kill others, should the need arise. And then, when we’re done with them, we just turn them out, expecting them to function without support in our cosy, civilian world. Surely we can do better than this?

Neil Watkin’s diaries, adapted and performed by Tim Marriott, offer us a glimpse into the troubled life of an ex-soldier. ‘Tommy’ has served in the army for thirty years, and he’s looking forward to a bit of normality, to renting a house with his girlfriend, Shell, and finding a new job. In the meantime, he’s staying with his mum and dad, and spending a lot of time at the job centre. Work is proving elusive, because he hasn’t got any qualifications, and his experience doesn’t seem to count. He’s angry all the time: if he could just get rid of the nightmares, get some sleep, maybe he’d be able to calm down? But he doesn’t want to take pills or talk to anyone, because he’s a real man, isn’t he, and real men cope…

This is an important story. If at times it feels a little stale, well maybe that’s the point. This is a commonplace situation; Tommy’s struggles are, sadly, far from rare. Still, it seems fair to say that the script might benefit from a little updating: in places, the references feel outmoded. Of course, as the piece is based on a real diary, this makes sense, but observational commentary about Big Brother and Friends falls flat, and the lengthy speech about IKEA is pretty hack. There are some genuinely affecting moments, not least at the very end, as Tommy’s suffering reaches its peak. The soundtrack is beautifully curated, and I like the use of mime alongside the sound effects: the level of understated detail Marriott achieves is impressive.

It’s good to see a decent-sized crowd in for this lunchtime show – and to be reminded that the Daparian Foundation exists, offering support to the thousands of Tommys out there.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

On Your Bike


the Space@Surgeon’s Hall, Edinburgh

The members of Cambridge University’s Musical Theatre Society have a lot to live up to: their predecessors were responsible for the smash hit SiX. I’d feel a bit mean for introducing the comparison, if it weren’t for the fact that they’re touting the link as a means of promotion, so I reckon it’s fair game.

And honestly, they don’t come out too badly. Okay, so On Your Bike (words by Joe Venable; music by Ben James) doesn’t have the universal appeal of a rewritten bit of history, nor the inbuilt narrative arc. But it’s a lovely, lively – and meaningful – musical nonetheless, and I am thoroughly engaged.

It’s a timely tale. Aidan (Dominic Carrington) longs to be an artist; Gemma (Ella Nevill) just wants to pay her rent. To make ends meet, they work as ‘Eatseroo’ riders. They wait outside Felicity (Claire Lee Shenfield)’s chicken shop, desperate for work, conscious all the time of the precariousness of their situation: their zero hours contracts, their poor pay, their lack of employment rights. And when Gemma is knocked off her bike, she has nowhere to turn…

Aidan’s girlfriend, Daisy (Emilia Grace), is no help. She works for Eatseroo in a different capacity: she’s a ‘proper’ worker, with an office and a salary. She’s bought into the company’s ethos, and wants Aidan to sell out his dreams.

Although the musical addresses serious issues (unionisation, exploitation, animal rights), it does so with a lightness of touch, so that it never feels hectoring. There is humour here, and tenderness, and a gentle love story – which feels all the more romantic for never being fully resolved.

The four performers all have fabulous voices, as you’d expect, and they complement each other well. The songs are upbeat and zesty, embodying the youthful spirit of the protagonists. There is archetypal musical theatre here, but James has also incorporated rock, jazz and hip hop, to vivacious effect.

Maybe Daisy’s redemption feels a little pat, and perhaps Gemma’s post-crash desperation could be highlighted a little more. But these are only quibbles: this is, without doubt, a quality piece of work.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield



the SpaceUK Triplex, Hill Place, Edinburgh

Well, it’s been a long time coming, but live theatre is back, and – here at Bouquets & Brickbats – we feel as though all our Christmases have come at once (and, by Christmas, we mean the usual, fun-filled occasion, not the travesty of last year’s non-festive damp squib). And what better way to start than with Edinburgh-based Red Rabbit Theatre’s Corpsing, a new comedy-drama by Callum Ferguson and Lewis Lauder?

It tells the tale of Elliot (Dillon MacDonald), a recent graduate of Imperial College, London, armed with a degree in business studies and a newly-inherited funeral parlour. Elliot only ever met his grandfather once, so he’s not exactly overcome with emotion to learn that the old man is dead; instead, he’s keen to grasp the opportunity to run his own company, and put his theoretical knowledge into practice. Unfortunately for Elliot, his grandfather’s assistant, Charlie (Lewis Gemmell), soon lets slip that things haven’t always been done exactly by the book… and a trawl through a pile of unopened letters reveals another surprise: an auditor is arriving. Tomorrow.

What ensues is a playful three-hander, with dead bodies and misunderstandings a-plenty. The auditor, Fiona (Anya Burrows), is disarmingly friendly, but her inane chatter and frequent giggles mask a steely nature. How will Elliot and Charlie keep their business afloat?

There is a lot to like about this play. It’s laugh-out-loud funny in places, and the three actors work well together; despite being heightened for comic effect, their characters are all believable as well as distinctive. Gemmell clearly revels in the role of funnyman, but MacDonald and Burrows make great stooges; this is clearly a real team piece.

Okay, so I do have a few quibbles. The script sags a little at times: the conversation between Elliot and Charlie about the pros and cons of euthanasia, while interesting, outstays its welcome, and there’s perhaps too much exposition in the final scene. And it has to be said, there are a few plot-holes – why does Charlie need to wrap corpses in bin-bags, for example, and drag them to the premises? Aren’t there coffins and hearses here? There’s also more stage traffic than there needs to be: the set changes are unnecessarily complicated (why waste time swapping two very similar tables, when one would work just fine?), and I find myself irked by the empty file that’s supposedly ‘full of documents’ and the plastic water bottle labelled ‘champagne.’ Of course, I don’t expect expensive props in a Fringe piece, but these do feel a bit school-play, which is a shame, when the piece is – in general – rather good.

If you’re looking for a fun, light-hearted and engaging way to spend an hour – in a room with real people watching a real performance in real time – then you could do a lot worse than this.

3.4 stars

Susan Singfield