REVIEWS AT THE EDINBURGH FESTIVAL

Edinburgh Festival
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The Independent Culture
ROMEO ET JULIETTE

Theatre Workshop (venue 20), 34 Hamilton Place (0131-226 5425) 10pm; 12-26, 28 Aug, 2 Sept (not 13, 20 Aug)

Stuck in a perpetual Shakespearian tape-loop, Romeo and Juliet are forced to play out their final scene for all eternity, each attempt at suicide less successful than the last. They have become a neurotic, daytime talk- show parody: "star-crossed lovers who cannot die for love". They indulge in lavish death rituals. They obviously need counselling. This reappraisal by the French company Nada Theatre flips the play around, starting at the end and introducing the balcony scene in a fit of frustrated nostalgia. At times the whole exercise feels a little empty. But before they are thrust back into suspended animation, Nada's Romeo and Juliet play wonderfully on the slapstick of the original and get a few laughs at the expense of the myth of pure, heroic true love.

John O'Mahony

PEASOUPER

Bedlam Theatre (venue 49), 2a Forrest Road (0131-225 9893) 4pm; to 2 Sept (not 20, 27 Aug)

Rejects Revenge could just be the next Right Size. Like that company, they go in for ridiculous physical performances and endearingly daffy plot-lines. Peasouper follows a trio of stiff-upper-lipped Victorians across several continents in search of a lost jewel and a murderous bounder, by way of a London courtroom, a Wild West wagon and an Indiana Jones-style Egyptian tomb. In a gloriously silly climax, the two painted boxes that comprise most of the set become a speeding steam train as the good and bad guys slug it out through several compartments and, of course, on the roof. David Alison, Ann Farrar and Tim Hibberd have a sharp collective eye for the lampoonable excesses of good old English pluck. And they do terrific camel impressions.

Ian Shuttleworth

BONDAGERS

Traverse (venue 15), Cambridge St (0131-228 1404) 12 noon; to 31 Aug (not 21)

A quick glance through the glossary of old Scottish words provided with the programme gives a pretty good idea of the tone and content of this play. Bondager: female farmworker supplied by a farm tenant in accordance with the conditions of his tenancy; fulzie: dung, dirt; clanjamfray: commotion, noisy crowd; kind: male farmworker; dowie: sad. Sue Glover's much revived play has entered the Scottish canon, a timeless tale of suffering, joy and more suffering among the women farm-workers of 19th-century Scotland. But in Ian Brown's scrupulous production, it becomes clear, especially in the livelier second half, why this is such a hardy perennial of a play. It is organically theatrical, scattered with interludes of singing and dancing, full of compelling stories and, in this instance, replete with feisty performances from an ensemble of six women.

Clare Bayley

JOHN MOLONEY'S CLASS OF '95

Gilded Balloon (venue 38), 233 Cowgate, (0131-226 2151) 8pm; to 2 Sept (not 31 Aug)

Whoever called John Moloney the Tony Hancock of the Nineties needs to see a brain donor. Jowls apart, they've about as much in common as Jo Brand and Richard Pryor. Not that Moloney isn't fat, but that's where the comparison begins and ends. Whatever critics say about him, he knows even more about them: "The Edinburgh Festival ... the only time the teaboy at the Scotsman becomes important."

The likely-lad Deptford banter and musical larking pull him through some distracted moments, helped along by a laid-back audience rapport. At times he appears so relaxed, you fear he's nodded off; and then he'll save himself with a sudden aside - "Portillo? Portaloo's better. He's mobile and he's full of shit."

Mark Wareham

THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF AMERICA

Assembly Rooms (venue 33), 54 George Street, (0131-226 2428) 12 noon; to 27 Aug (not 16,21,23)

"We are told history is written by the winners ... well, today it's our turn," the Reduced Shakepeare Company say before diving headlong into their motherland's history. And who better to shrink-wrap the States than these speed merchants of condensed comedy? From the Civil War to civil rights, McCarthyism to McDonald's, the trio create a cast of thousands during a furiously paced 90 minutes of gags, poems, songs and slapstick. Watch out for a hallucinogenic encounter between the gumshoe Spade Diamond and the Cat in the Hat - a Dr. Seuss-styled Uncle Sam. Slick and funny, the RSC also ask important questions, like: "Where was Oliver Stone on the night Malcolm X was shot?" This is the ultimate bluffer's guide to the New World.

Liese Spencer

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