Aaron Barschak - Osama Likes It Hot, Underbelly, Edinburgh

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The Independent Culture

There's an old Chinese proverb warning of the fate awaiting those who get what they ask for, an aphorism the self-styled "comedy terrorist" Aaron Barschak is beginning to understand. His ludicrous one-note publicity stunts might have gained him the attention he so obviously craves, but conversely his temporary high profile means that he now gets to play to rooms full of press, all eager to see fame bite him on the arse.

And he's up against the big boys now, if you can so describe the dreamers who clutter the Fringe. Watching this excruciating 55-minute slot, one has to wonder just what he had planned when he booked the venue, presumably well in advance of his most lurid escapade. Simply, he has no material, adequate or otherwise (save one rather good joke about Ralph Fiennes).

A considered description of his antics and their outcome could have made for an entertaining show in the hands of a real performer, yet when it comes to those tedious technical details such as getting his lines right, correct syntax and so on, he's so lacking it's just painful to watch. The Scouse feller who streaks at sporting events is way ahead of this sad clown, whose tale will surely become the subject of a Fringe play yet to be written.

Venue 61, 2.45pm (55 mins) to 17 Aug (not 12 Aug) (0870 745 3083)




THE OMINOUS HISS of an approaching train opens this story about a boy who loves trains too much. More joyriding than Trainspotting, it recounts the real-life history of Darius McCollum of New York, who dropped out of school and started hanging out on the wrong side of the tracks; in this case, subway tracks. Befriending the drivers, he learnt from them until, at 15, he was handed the keys to a train and drove it to the World Trade Centre. Which is where the story really starts; since then his continuing obsession with trains has had him arrested 20 times and made him an urban legend. It's a good story, which is enthusiastically told in this stage version by 78th Street Theatre Lab, but it's only partly successful. With the whole, energetic cast appearing almost all the time, wearing the same uniforms but playing different characters (and, in McCollum's case, different ages), the plot is harder to follow than the District and Circle lines. Self-conscious bouts of rapping and regular appearances from a deranged busker do nothing to keep the story moving.

The real question is whether McCollum is a criminal or simply suffering from a rare form of autism. The play argues heavily for autism but ducks out at the last minute, concluding that "we're all God's children" and celebrating with a final group rap, the "Subway Groove". The only person who can't join in the happy ending is McCollum himself, who's serving out his latest prison sentence.

Rhiannon Batten

Venue 3, 12.25pm (1hr 10 mins), to 25 Aug (not 12 and 19 Aug) (0131-226 2428)




He is, by his own admission, wee, baldy and as camp as a pink pineapple upside-down cake in an East Kilbride sink estate, where in fact he was raised in what must have been a tough upbringing. One of the kings of Scottish stand-up right now, Craig Hill rushes at the audience with bursts of song, fast insult and tales from the housing schemes, sporting the tightest red T-shirt, the daintiest goatee and a swishing black leather kilt.

He asks us to love him, and we do, immediately. He stares at the audience with a Graham Norton-like blend of glee and sympathetic disdain in his malleable mouth and quizzical eyebrows. "Nice hair," he tells a front-row female: "Jewellery from Argos?" The essential Hill thing is his rapid-fire bitching combined with a singalonga song cycle which, in other hands, would be pretty naff.

Hill preens and poses in an almost classical approach to gay stand-up, with material completely grounded in the Scottish milieu. He is that rare thing, a naturally funny comedian whose skewed expressions are enough to keep us happy. But he is also a terrific singer, with an effortless high falsetto that he employs to parody all the gay icons, from Shirley Bassey on, in uncanny vocal impressions. His drunken Judy Garland and underwater Streisand are spine-tinglingly accurate; tiny vocal masterpieces alone worth the ticket price.

Bob Flynn

Venue 3, 9.15pm (1hr), to 25 Aug (not 10 and 18 Aug) (0131-226 2428)