Love me, love my fish

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The Independent Culture
Awards fly thick and fast during the Edinburgh Festival, many requiring a hefty pinch of salt to swallow. But sometimes they still succeed in doing what they're meant to: surprise you into sitting up and taking notice. Take The Stage Award "for acting excellence" which this year went to the Glaswegian Lynn Ferguson. Nothing strange there except that The Stage is the acting industry's bible while Ferguson (left) is a mere stand- up comic. This week London gets a chance to see what the fuss was all about when she brings her one-woman play, Heart and Sole, to Hampstead Theatre. On paper it sounds like a one-gag show. Carol is a lonely primary school teacher from St Andrews. David is a scaly telepathic flat fish. Their eyes meet across a crowded aquarium and they fall in love, to the understandable concern of Carol's friends. No English degree needed to work out that bit of symbolism. Ferguson the writer, however, has resisted easy laughs and pat metaphors to produce a chamber piece as moving as it's funny; and it is very funny. As an actress, too, she is amphibious, her unearthly gravel-packed, cigarette-induced wail of a voice switching effortlessly between humour and domestic tragedy. The way she milks the laugh from a line like "When he doesn't phone, I know it's because he can't" while never losing sight of its underlying stoical sadness is breathtaking.

'Heart and Sole' is part of a double-bill with Geraldine McNulty's 'Ten Women in a One-Frock Show'. Hampstead Theatre, Swiss Cottage Centre, London NW3 (0171-722 9224) 21 Nov- 2 Dec 7pm

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