In UNDER THE LADDER, a provincial theatre company are rehearsing a lacklustre Hamlet, and when one of the cast mentions another Shakespeare during rehearsals, the Scottish Play, superstitions turn into twisted reality. Ordinarily, in the play within a play format, the inner show is more hammy than supposed reality, but here both are equally dreadful. This static, stilted production, painfully lacking in the intrigue it strives for, and with uncomfortably stagnant staging, will have you scanning for the fire exits.
While some of the actors try to transcend the dire script, Hamlet having a certain focus and enigma, the characters overall completely lack diversity. A small phoenix from the ashes: Olivia’s sing-song soliloquy to a mirror that has a certain creepiness. Z Theatre are keen to promulgate the idea of an oeuvre of shows they have at the Fringe, but this performance certainly won’t have me rushing for another. Fortunately for them, the power lies with the flyer-bearer.
Next, it’s winner of the Sir Michael Caine award for new writing, VISITING TIME. Piers, a wanton cad, is dying of AIDS and only his dated, Carry-On style interaction with his attentive nurse can lift his spirits. With the arrival of old frenemy Tom, and much pacing around, their joint history in a Kenyan AIDS programme is revealed, along with a catalogue of dubiously poor judgement that led to their own infection. Piers produces a pistol from his bedside cabinet and begs for euthanasia, only to decide minutes later that Tom should die first, and with all of the gun-waving between the tea-trays, the playwright expects near-constant tension over whether it will ever go off.
This criminally expositional script wants us to follow twist after clunky twist, until we are utterly exhausted of any disbelief suspending juices. The actors stoically drag the play forward, but the audience don’t even want to know where it’s going. Perhaps if Caine himself had read the play, he would have avoided association with such soupy drama.
With the watershed long past, it’s time for my final show of the day: SEXYTIME! Tessa Waters and Kai Smythe, a couple on and off the stage, explore sexuality and what it really means to be sexy. Arriving late to a wiggling jiggling re-telling of the Adam and Eve story, I have never seen two people with their underwear on seeming more gleefully naked. Their grotesque and hugely entertaining physicality has the audience screaming with bemused laughter as we shift from dance numbers, to oddball sketches, to ballsy audience interaction.
All the while, they take a sideways look at sex, illuminating its combination of awkwardness and joy. Smythe is an out and out sexual clown, and his ability to have mouth open and tongue protruding throughout the hour, without becoming desiccated, I can only put down to the dankness of Underbelly’s caves. Waters regales us in a Eurotrash accent with fiery eroticism, as she boldly displays the curves of her ample physique. While many shows at the Fringe try to shock or surprise, SEXYTIME! breaks down sexual barriers with a battering ram and will have you drooling in the aisles.
UNDER THE LADDER – 6-16 Aug (not 12) – theSpace on North Bridge
VISITING TIME – 1-26 Aug – Gilded Balloon Teviot
SEXYTIME! – 2-26 Aug (not 14) – Underbelly, Cowgate