Edinburgh Festival '99: Theatre - Ridiculous beauty

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The Independent Culture
IT IS the most extraordinary hairstyle - a sort of cornucopia for vegetarians. But the hairdresser doesn't seem to think it odd that the woman has carrots and bananas sticking out of her head, and he eagerly sets to work, pruning a little here, scraping a carrot there. The scene shimmers with an absurd beauty. This is clowning as art: welcome to the beautifully ridiculous world of St Petersburg's multi-award-winning group, Farces.

The show takes the audience to the imaginary atmosphere of a park, picking up thematic strands from the characters there and weaving them into a lyrical tapestry. A man tries to fly a kite, a fop chases a girl through the park, an old man tends a cactus. Elliptical, slight - each story could almost be summed up in a haiku, but the cast fleshes each theme out with imaginative choreography and a range of exaggerated facial expressions. You roar with laughter, and then sit back entranced, as the quirky logic of each scene unfolds in front of you.

Much of the enchantment is enhanced by the music. Schmaltzy waltzes are superseded by the "wah wah wah" of a jazz trumpet, which in turn quietens down into the kind of chimes that suggest a world of quiet contemplation.

A highlight of the show is whenthey mime an orchestra - the girl wiggling her nose and sticking her tongue out for the flighty sound of the flute, while a man inflates his cheeks till his eyes almost turn inside out to represent the tuba.

Although the characters do not speak, each one sums up a mood. The old man has disapproval and dissatisfaction frozen on to his face, a paradigm of reclusive eccentricity. By contrast, if the fop were a cartoon, he would be drawn as a series of wavy lines, each movement a languid expression of frivolity. You build up a relationship with each, laughing with compassion as well as admiration when they perform their cleverly co-ordinated physical feats. A Fantasia that truly is "fantastic".

4.45pm, to 30 Aug, 0131-226 2428