Edinburgh Festival 1993: REVIEWS

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The Independent Culture

Few comedians so completely divide their audience as Harry Hill. Half the room can hardly stay on their seats, while the other half sits there, impassively waiting for the laugh that never comes. Hill's appeal lies in his gently surreal looning, untainted by sex, politics or anything remotely topical - 'Chicken, liver, carrots, onions, everybody's talking 'bout . . . casseroles.' Packaged like a strange-things- about-science show, Eggs is impossible to dislike for its sheer joy in the nonsensical. Yet, long before the halfway mark, it slumps into a pattern of predictability and fish recipes: a pale Vic Reeves shadow without a hint of danger. Mark Wareham

Pleasance (venue 33), 60 The Pleasance (031-556 6550). 7.45pm to 4 Sept (not 2).


The British justice system wins no favours in John Williams's muted, if deeply felt, meditation on life 'inside'. Having spent 20 years in a variety of jails, Williams lends authority and insight to this collection of vignettes, structured as a sketch show, in which his gentle wit and ironic perspective undermine our own complacency. By concentrating on small situations he challenges stereotypes, while forgiving those who have reduced him to one. Charming, and without malice, Williams's integrity emerges stronger for his honesty and idealism. He wants the audience to befriend him and you'd have to be a cynic to decline. Abandoned as an infant, black and gay, Williams retains a dignity and vision that make for a truly humbling experience. Aaron Hicklin

Demarco European Art Foundation (venue 22), York Lane (031-557 0707). 5pm to 28 Aug.


Derek Nisbet's remarkable violin score underpins this fibrous, thoughtful piece by Made of Clay Theatre Company. (They take their name seriously - the set is largely composed of mud.) The clash between an agitprop storyteller and a feudal regime is used to examine the power of the imagination to alter brute reality. It's a world of ghosts and 'voices' where words can be used as weapons but history is still written by the victors. Sparse, stark visuals serve as a firm foundation for the verbal battles that are the play's substance. Ian Shuttleworth

Theatre Zoo (venue 4), St Columba's by the Castle, Johnston Terrace (031-228 9208). 3.40pm to 28 Aug.


Winner of the Sunday Times playwriting award, Robert Shearman's play is a shocking portrait of Christmas in a kitschy, totalitarian, anti-Semitic society. The superbly realised family of brainwashed drones parrot pleases and thank-yous, religious platitudes and appalling bigotry. The horror lies in the play's cold, remote tone: it's a daring but ruthless playwright who can present the abuse of a child alongside an account of gas-chamber atrocity. It leaves a nasty taste in the mouth for all the right reasons.

Nick Curtis

Southside 93 (venue 82), 117 Nicolson St (031-667 7365). 3.20pm to 29 Aug.


There is a new term in theatre vocabulary - Godberesque, ie to place parochial characters (from Yorkshire) in an alien environment (outside Yorkshire) and to send up (with a touch of schadenfreude) their navety. This is the essence of Godber's new play, and the audience love it. Al and Bet are a typically depressing depression couple - one job between them, a millstone mortgage and a characterless home, with love all but extinguished by domestic blight. Then Bet wins a weekend-for-two in Paris and the English abroad cliches swamp us. And yet, for all the hackneyed situations, it sparkles with fresh truths about bickering couples and the nature of affection. Godber neatly pinpoints male dependence on female savvy when, left alone to order in a pavement cafe, Al would rather walk out than attempt French. Minimal sets - with Paris a wash of Renoir - and slick performances from Mark Addy and Amanda Orton top off a deceptively simple winner. Graham Hassell

Assembly Rooms (venue 3), 54 George Street (031-226 2428). 3pm to 4 Sept.