The Argument A Family Portrait / Linda Marlowe: No Fear! /
12 Angry Men / Hurricane
Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh
August, 2003

Every year without fail the Edinburgh Fringe is criticised for being more and more of a trade fair. And every year it is defended as still offering the excitement of the unpredictable discovery. But every year the producers and venue bookers are frantically chasing such discoveries, and the journalists from south of the border, like squirrels storing up nuts, try to fit shows under their belt in August to carry them through the steady current of London transfers over the subsequent months.

The Traverse Theatre, of course, leads the way in terms of transfers, with future itineraries of several shows already arranged and published before the Fringe season began. The Royal Court will host both its co-production with the Told By An Idiot company of the Presnyakov Brothers' Playing The Victim, in September prior to a tour, and the Out Of Joint co-production of Stella Feehily's writing début Duck, at the end of its own tour in late November. Gregory Burke's The Straits also tours, including a stint at the Hampstead Theatre from late October. Heather Raffo's solo portrait of Iraqi womanhood Nine Parts Of Desire will be staged at the Bush, and the off-the-wall delights of Napoleon In Exile also look likely for a London reprise. (All the aforementioned shows have been reviewed here.)

Elsewhere, comedian Henry Naylor's play Finding Bin Laden is to tour, and in the longest-term deal I am aware of, the tour of the Indian Ink company's Fringe First-winning Pickle will culminate in a run at the Lyric Hammersmith in autumn 2004. The theatrical hit of the Fringe and winner of the "First of the Firsts" award, the Riot Group's Pugilist Specialist (also reviewed here), will come to London next March at the end of a tour of the British Isles; venue to be confirmed, but likely to be either the Riverside Studios or Soho Theatre + Writers' Centre. In comedy, the nominees in each category of the Perrier award including main award winner Demetri Martin and newcomer laureate Gary Le Strange (both reviewed here) will be showcased in the West End over the first three Sundays in October.

The Barbican's BITE strand will play host to Theatre O's The Argument: A Family Portrait (***). The company whose 3 Dark Tales lit up Edinburgh a few Fringes ago returned to the Assembly Rooms this year with a charming but fragmented account of a father, son and daughter coping over three decades with the loss of a mother. The company's visual and physical style is immensely appealing, but may have become something of an end in itself as the various bittersweet segments of the story do not always slot together seamlessly.

A London venue has yet to be confirmed for Linda Marlowe's solo autobiographical show No Fear! (****), which blends candid story-telling, wry verse, rock music and even a trapeze segment to recount the high- and lowlights of actress Marlowe's life and career: the four marriages, the single instance of drug-smuggling to pay her child's school fees, her stint as a rock amazon with the Sadista Sisters and so forth. At the climax of the performance I saw, Marlowe fell off the trapeze swing. She immediately assured us that she was unhurt, climbed back on and completed the act: a perfect metaphor for her life.

Producer Guy Masterson's Edinburgh-genius move this year was to stage Reginald Rose's 12 Angry Men (****) with a cast consisting almost entirely of comedians, including Stephen Frost, Jeff Green, Phil Nichol and a soberly-wigged Bill Bailey, along with the actorly personification of the Fringe since its inception in 1947, Russell Hunter. The Henry Fonda role of Juror 8, who does not so much argue his fellows round from their initial "guilty" verdict as simply keep questioning its obviousness, was played efficiently by Owen O'Neill. By the time I saw the show, mid-run at the Assembly Rooms, the performers had begun to loosen up a little and feel more at ease with the occasional laugh; Frost, in particular, kept undercutting the menace of Juror 3 (played by Lee J. Cobb in the film version) with bathos. But none of this torpedoed the continuing power of this pillar of 1950s liberal drama. The only complication to a London transfer is the respective schedules of the various performers.

A transfer has also yet to be confirmed for Hurricane (****), but the West End kingpin sitting two seats along from me at the Assembly Rooms the other night was lapping it up, so hopes are high. Snooker player Alex "Hurricane" Higgins was a force of nature, as is Richard Dormer in his solo portrait of the man. He whirls and flourishes around the compact playing area, perspiration lashing off him as he tosses his head as the imperious "people's champion". (He also captures to a T the most complex accent you're ever likely to hear on a stage: Higgins' strange broth of his native Belfast, his adoptive home of Lancashire and the occasional southern English vowel.) It's a simple, honest, electrifying story and performance, whose one confirmed English date so far is a perfect spiritual homecoming: it's going to snooker's Mecca, the Sheffield Crucible.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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