Edinburgh Festival 97: Fringe

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Aurelius, The Valiant Apprentice

The National Youth Theatre have excelled themselves in this new 21st-anniversary production. Based on a story from a 17th-century chapbook, Aurelius is the most glorious romp, full of swashbuckling adventures in teeming London and on the high seas, romance, ferocious female pirates, a hilarious Carry on up the Harem sequence at the court of the Turkish Sultan, and some of the sprightliest Cockney apprentices this side of Oliver!. These young performers continue to amaze with their incredible confidence and verve: James Hoare was an engaging and pleasant-voiced hero; Lucy-Anne Bradshaw a formidable Long Meg, the pirate chieftain(ess); Sophia Thierens a prim merchant's daughter; while Amy Nuttall made a charming Princess Ismene. Brilliant cameo roles were really too many to list, although the deliciously bumbling Sultan, a bizarre female Viking, the diminutive but ferocious Sergeant Major Fuzuck, and a camp Turkish dancing master in baggy pantaloons do stick in the mind. Peter Allwood's atmospheric music was performed, with their customary skill, by the NYMT musicians under Alexander L'Estrange. A marvellous show, like a really good, rollicking pantomime, minus the corny jokes.

Run ended

Laurence Hughes


Vice and Verse: The Poetry of Murray Lachlan Young

Last year, Murray Lachlan Young came to the Festival and no one took the blindest. Then there was that recording deal with EMI (allegedly worth pounds 1m), slots on MTV, an album. Cue media spotlight, full beam. If this is poetry's new Messiah, then heaven help us has been the standard refrain this year. The amount tendered for him was so obscene, the hype surrounding him so huge, that, let's be frank, only his mother wouldn't feel shortchanged attending one of his readings. On stage, Young isn't even the Byronesque beauty suggested by his poster campaign; he looks more like a tousle-haired sixth former who has just discovered waistcoats and moody glances. He is, none the less, a droll performer, one who delivers his mock heroic swipes at the vanities of the age with a curious mixture of posh nonchalance and demonic intensity. And a cellist and goateed valet. From the opening declamations of "The Pros and Cons of Superstardom" to the climactic anthem ("Simply Everyone's Taking Cocaine"), via soundbite stanzas and cautionary tales built on clumping couplets (sample punchline: "Never believe in your own PR"), it's clear that his persona - jaded, turn-of-the-century debonair - is part of the joke. You won't laugh long and you won't laugh loud, but then, it's a niche market: Noel Coward style, Noel Gallagher sense - allow him, for a minute, the mere trappings of fame.

Assembly Rooms (Venue 3). To 30 Aug (0131-226 2428)

Dominic Cavendish


Peepolykus - I am a Coffee

I am a Coffee reveals virtuosos at work: in a surreal blizzard of gags and slapsticks, a time-travelling postman with a mystifying card to deliver falls prey to a pair of scheming fishmongers.

Such blissful nonsense is mere grist to the comic mill for John Nicholson, David Sant and Javier Marzan though. Knowing comic ineptness is tricky to pull off but, after the success of last year's Let the Donkey Go, the trio juggle a bewildering array of puns, sight jokes, daft songs, word play and one-liners with rare ease. Where the joins do occasionally show - at well over an hour I am a Coffee could shed 10 minutes - a thoroughly charmed audience appears more than happy to forgive.

Pleasance (Venue 33). To 30 Aug (0131-556 6550)

Mike Higgins


Alibis for Life by Sean Hughes

Never trust a comedian who gives his show a title - it means they are striving to do more than just entertain. They bring a message.

Alibis for Life finds Sean Hughes house-sitting for a friend in a room that includes a small wooden box containing all the lonely, moaning single people in the world. It's relationships that trouble Hughes, but not in the light-hearted "Aren't men and women different" manner of his fellow comedians. He sees relationships as a disturbing, existential catch-22 choice between loneliness and tolerance. So although much is hilarious, it is laughter in a well of darkness.

The endearing adolescent angst of the 1990 Perrier Award Winner has hardened into acute misanthropy that much of his old fan base will find unpalatable. However, Alibis for Life resonates with the same nagging power as a Raymond Carver short story long after Hughes has grumbled off the stage.

George Square Theatre (Venue 37). To 29 Aug (0131-650 2001), then touring

Anthony Thornton


Dusty Fruit

Disarming asides such as "We can't die - we're in a comedy" often win us over in this subtly ambitious tale. Rejects Revenge's production would appear to be a cosy, light-hearted ghost story - comedy removal men Mr Brown and Mr Bodge are on a job in Harry and Milly's childhood home, a deserted house teetering on the edge of a cliff, and find themselves tangled up in its tragic history - but it pleasingly hints at something more unsettling.

The writer Tom Hibberd's gently paced mix of physical comedy, mime and childhood reminiscence is saved from a winsome fate by the production's deprecating, self-reflexive wit and its quirky blackness.

Hibberd, Ann Farrar and David Alison may alternate between hammy mugging and melodrama in their doubled-up performances, but the result is a beguilingly queasy mix of farce and something a lot nastier: a sitcom with a body count.

Pleasance (Venue 33). To 30 Aug (0131-556 6550)