Ryder/Oblomov/Bartleby/Scott Capurro: The Doctor Is On/
Geno Washington: Cut Loose And Singin' The Blues
Various venues, Edinburgh
August, 1996

The Pleasance is easily the most convivial of Edinburgh Fringe venues, except on weekend evenings when It comes to resemble one of the jazzier circles of Dante's Hell.

However, at midday my heart sank at the opening sequence of Ryder. Too many shows here have parodied this physical, "atmospheric" style already for it to be taken seriously now. But half an hour later, I realised I had been seduced: skilful, almost-linear, post-student version of Djuna Barnes's novel of amorality employs a range of presentational strategies, none as hackneyed as the first had been. At least 20 minutes too long, but it makes for an amiably disparate ramble.

Later, at Pleasance Over The Road, I went to Oblomov. The Gambler was one of last year's smaller-scale Fringe finds. The same team's take on Goncharov's novel drags his slothful protagonist into 1990s media-darling London, and is tailored for lead actors Dan O'Brien and Andy McKay; more fun than their earlier show, but less impressive as theatre.

I have been reluctant to say as much, but Jonathan Holloway seemed to have lost his way with Red Shift for a couple of years. However, Bartleby (Theatre Workshop), an adaptation of Herman Melville's novella about a living ghost in a Wall Street law office, constitutes a return almost to prime form: stifling and sombre, but nursing a slow-burning concern with the individual psyche amid the temples of Mammon. Like Bartleby (Simon Startin), most of us "would prefer not to" be digested by the commercial beast, but the alternative is effectively to cease to exist.

After dinner, it was back to Pleasance Over The Road for Scott Capurro: The Doctor Is On, which is a marvellous blend of the approaches of gay San Francisco comedian Capurro's last two outings, the autobiographical Risk-Gay (1994) and last year's conventional stand-up set. Pretending to be a Californian radio psychologist allows him both to work the audience and to insert scripted segments which are at times remarkably touching, showing that beneath the skin of the consummate stage bitch is an insecure creature of flesh and blood.

At midnight Geno Washington: Cut Loose And Singin' The Blues (Assembly Rooms) provided unabashed enjoyment. The soul genius is still in fine fettle, although lumbered with an undistinguished backing trio never trust a guitarist who doesn't wear a T-shirt beneath his dungarees. Washington is more liberated on R&B numbers than when tackling straight blues standards, but anyone who can scream up a storm during "Gloria" is all right in my book.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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