Edinburgh Festival: Fringe

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THEATRE

Laodamia

Famous Grouse House, Venue 34 (0131-220 5606), 8pm, to 30 Aug

Glass panels on stage shimmer in the half-light. As the audience sits there in contemplative silence, three girls troop on to the set like ghosts and begin their extraordinary enactment of the story of Laodamia's lust for her dead husband, Protesilaos. From the start, they adopt an exotic and alien theatrical language, dancing as if in a dream and exaggerating the music of their words. You feel as if you have been plunged into a twilight world between Edgar Allan Poe and Homer's portrayal of Hades.

Unfortunately the result is a performance so dense with poetic touches that it seems like little more than gothic mud. The Merlin International Theatre company has tried to sum up the gruesome horror of Laodamia's self-destruction in embracing her dead husband, and has piled on music that sounds like Enya on LSD, plus enhanced echoing vocal effects. This is a waste of a beautiful set and a good script - the language is rich enough to contain a music of its own, and perhaps if director Laszlo Magacs digested the dictum "less is more" the play would work better. As it is, you simply feel bludgeoned by melodrama.

Rachel Halliburton

COMEDY

Greg Proops

Music Hall, Assembly Rooms, Venue 3 (0131-226 2428), 8.30pm, to 19 Aug

Watching this man striding across the vast, be-chandeliered space of the Assembly Room's Music Hall, it occurs to you that it might well be a case of "Pack your bags, It's Travel with Proops". Not for him, the sweaty closeness of tiny fringe venues where you battle for leg-room and oxygen; this mainstay of Whose Line Is It Anyway is far too classy for that. What's more, he seems to have honed and refined his stage persona from being downright bitchy to smart and witty, although beneath the acerbic tone there are still the surprisingly funny childlike modifications to the English language - at one point I think he said snugglepumpkins.

As travel guide, he takes us on a veritable gander round the globe with his own inimitable dry perspective on the miserable Brits in Disneyland; the continental Europeans and their relaxed work ethic, and the puritanism of his native America. Every comic in town does material about Scotland and its "tempting cuisine" but Proops goes further, using his physical and vocal dexterity to play every character in an Edinburgh chip shop, leaving the audience rocking back and forth with laughter. Well worth the trip.

Ella Kenion

DANCE

Gumboots

Gilded Balloon, Venue 26 (0131-226 2151), 7pm, to 30 Aug

Six men rush howling and whooping into the room, and grab the momentum by the balls. Once on stage they erupt into macho tap-dancing, Morse code on speed, a throbbing, pulsating - whoah there, girl - synthesis of sweat and stampeding boots. The only reason, I surmise, that the women aren't throwing their knickers on stage is that they can't decide which wellington-boot womaniser should receive them.

Or maybe it's because they've been hypnotised into an ecstatic trance by the range of bare-topped black muscular men, pounding their message into the auditorium with grins that could easily light up an entire evening.

However, after you've been sitting there for 10 minutes, another form of hypnotism descends. Gumboots - which evolved as a dance-form among oppressed South African gold-mine workers - has a lot of force, but little variety. A great display is made of erecting heavy-duty machinery on stage, but just as you're expecting the dancers to send it whirling into action, the show ends. Stamina rather than imagination is the key here - but if you're into mud, sweat, and beers, perhaps no further intoxication is actually needed.

Rachel Halliburton

CABARET

Jacques Brel's Anonymous Cabaret

Ballroom, Assembly Rooms, Venue 3 (0131-226 2428), 11.45pm, to 21 Aug

All there is on stage is a cheesy sofa, an armchair and a standard lamp. What, no black-and-chrome bar stools? No neat line-up of well-groomed singers in dinner jackets and little black cocktails dresses?

Jacques Brel's Anonymous Society blessedly and triumphantly breaks every rule in the cabaret book. Predictably, the musicians use accordion and keyboards for Brel's insinuating, insistent songs, but all eight highly skilled performers flirt with, but overcome, the cliches surrounding this powerfully emotional material. Almost everything comes as a surprise, from the punchy translations to a choreographed trio of tea-drinking to the unexpected laughter from the cast that greets one of the rather more upsetting songs.

Such dislocations are typical of a vividly theatrical show which slings out the tired formats and goes for highly stylised juxtapositions of drama. There are moments early on when the expressionist fusion teeters towards confusion and the angst swamps the material, but the power and skill of the performance is so astonishing that there's nothing to do but surrender to it.

The last half-hour is a real emotional roller-coaster. Comforting and safe? No. Dazzling and bewitching? Most definitely.

David Benedict

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