Edinburgh Festival: Fringe Reviews

MUSICAL

Words and Music

C too, Venue 4, 7.50pm (0131-225 5105)

to 30 Aug

BILLED AS the first revival of Noel Coward's revue since 1932, Words and Music had a lot to live up to. Present circumstances (a church hall) could hardly evoke the glamour of the original production, but the energy and relish of this band of five performers made up for that. They caught the period style remarkably well, delivering the stiff-upper- lip dialogue of numbers like "Let's Say Goodbye" with conviction, and singing, rather than crooning, classics like "A Room with a View" and "The Party's Over Now".

Several numbers brought out Coward's subversive satire of the society of his day. Which certainly corrected the current impression of Coward's work as merely silly or sentimental. Highpoints, in particular, "Mad about the Boy" achieved genuine intensity. Well worth seeing.

Laurence Hughes

COMEDY

Rich Hall

Pleasance, Venue 33, 10.15pm (0131-556 6550) to 30 Aug

There is something about Otis Lee Crenshaw, alter-ego of Rich Hall, that causes women to swoon. Maybe it's his voice, a gravelly, 60-a-day drawl that makes Tom Waits sound like a canary. It could be his jailbird status, a feature that affords him vulnerability while giving him that vital element of danger. As Crenshaw puts it, "women like a project".

His improvised banter revolves around his appreciation of girls while subtly highlighting the inadequacies of their boyfriends. And despite some ill-judged attempts from audience members to upstage him, Crenshaw effortlessly retains the upper hand.

But most of his appeal lies in his songs, a series of country tunes with a sadistic twist. While steeped in the traditions of country and western, Crenshaw takes a dim view of Garth Brooks ("He doesn't know what it's like to pour bourbon over your cornflakes"). But such misanthropic tendencies are balanced by moments of pure sweetness. Only he could transform a song about jail rape into an epic love poem: "My cellmate beats me black and blue. But it's cool, he almost looks like you." An utterly charming monster.

Fiona Sturges

FILM

Pushing Tin

Gala international premiere, ABC Cinema, Lothian Road (0131-623 8030) tonight 8pm

Director Mike Newell's last film, the sorely underrated Donnie Brasco, dealt with a gangster tiring of his "ball-busting" lot. In Newell's comedy drama Pushing Tin, Nick Falzone (John Cusack) is another tough guy losing his zest for a lucrative, high-pressure occupation. Air-traffic control, however, doesn't have quite the fugitive allure of the Mob, which is just the start of the film's problems.

Already threatened by the arrival of an enigmatic, Native American-Irish controller Russell Bell (Billy Bob Thornton), Falzone begins to crack up after a one-night stand with Bell's wife. Next, his own partner (Cate Blanchett) walks out, and at work he nearly pushes one piece of tin into another at 20,000ft.

Unfortunately, Newell toils far too long in trying to dramatise the macho posturing of the control room. In doing so, he neglects a first-rate cast, particularly Blanchett - a comic revelation as the ditzy Connie - and Thornton, whose character is little more than a plot contrivance. Moreover, the film presents and then ignores, a far more intriguing milieu than the world of air traffic, namely the moneyed, New York suburban enclave inhabited by the controllers and their families. Finally, if it limps home at all, it's due to the script's occasional savvy moment and the self-deprecating presence of Cusack.

Mike Higgins

CHILDREN'S THEATRE

The Man Who Lost His Nose - Pekko's Puppets

Komedia @ Southside, Venue 82, 10.45am (0131-667 2212) to 29 Aug.

Ages 4-10

THIS IS the very funny and rather sad story of Major Kovalyev, a man of great importance and many medals. One morning he wakes to find his nose has gone. And although it can be seen having a great time with other runaway noses, there seems no way to catch it.

Adapted from Gogol's short story, the whole show relies on the skill of the storyteller, Stephen Novy. As the lover, the policeman, the barber and the manservant, he does a pretty good job. The runaway noses are fabulous as they dance and flirt with each other. But best of all is the General. While Novy stands right next to this pompous puppet and makes no effort to disguise either himself or his voice, he still seems invisible. What we see and hear is the poor, puffed-up soldier who cannot contemplate a life without a long, fat nose. Recommended.

Pru Irvine

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