We live in an age of surfaces, where being telegenic may be more help to an ambitious politician than far-sighted policies.
Theatre: The Drowned World, Traverse Theatre
By Paul Taylor
We live in an age of surfaces, where being telegenic may be more help to an ambitious politician than far-sighted policies. Scored for four voices that shift between driven, prose-poetic monologues and treacherous conversation, Gary Owen's new play, The Drowned World, offers an intriguing apocalyptic vision of a society that's even more obsessed with the skin-deep and is like an extreme photographic negative of our own. Here, in a surveillance state where people are classified as "citizens" and "non-citizens", it's the ugly who are in control and the beautiful who are on the run from brutal policies involving quarantine round-ups and rendering factories.
Vicky Featherstone directs this Paines Plough production with a strong feel for the stylised abstract geometry of a piece in which a good-looking young couple (Josephine Butler and Theo Fraser Steele) are forced into risky hiding with Darren, a reclusive, unlovely citizen (Neil McKinven) who nurses a diseased fixation for his female guest.
The contradictory forces of hatred for the Other and the desire to possess it are exposed, in all their self-defeating and self-despising meanness, through a story that sees Darren bartering away the girl's beauty (her hair, her gold-filled teeth) to a fetishistically covetous, blackmailing quarantine officer (Eileen Walsh).
Developed with Graeae, Britain's leading theatre company for people with physical impairments, The Drowned World reverses the conventional pattern of prejudice in a vivid and valuably resensitising exercise in defamiliarisation.
Venue 15: various times (1hr 30 mins), in rep to 24 Aug, 0131-228 1404
Comedy: Adam Hills Happy Feet, Pleasance Cabaret Bar
By Fiona Sturges
When do you tell a new girlfriend that your foot is detachable? Is it something that you bring up over dinner or do you wait until you're getting undressed ("It came off in my hand!")? This is just one of the problems addressed by Adam Hills.
He has two themes – 11 September and the experience of growing up with a prosthetic foot, subjects that are tacked together with a tale about setting off a metal detector at airport security. Previous routines have seen the comic expertly feeding off the audience and blurring the lines between rehearsed and improvised material. Rather disappointingly, in Happy Feet he sticks close to the script and the mechanics of the show are clearly evident.
It's during the latter half that Hills comes into his own. True, the foot-related material isn't as near the knuckle as he thinks it is, but there are some smart observations about attitudes to disability (adults back away; children yell "Hey, Mister! What happened to your leg?") As ever, Hills is a genial presence, so much so that when he describes being the only kid at school who wore his socks pulled up, a lump comes unexpectedly to my throat. Not cutting edge, then, but moving all the same.
Venue 33: 21.30 (1hr), to 26 Aug, 0131-556 6550
Comedy: Count Arthur Strong's forgotten Egypt, Gilded Balloon Cowgate
By Steve Jelbert
He has, as well. Steve Delaney's excruciating creation, head of Doncaster's leading stage school ("It's just like the Rada, they say") may have promised a lecture on the mysteries of ancient Egypt, but he keeps slipping into his usual anecdotes about the old times, in between sipping thirstily at a "good sploosh". (At one point he puts his glass down with the warning "I'll be seeing more of you.")
Though many find the Count something of an acquired taste there can be little doubt that this is his finest hour yet. For a start, we must face the sheer tension of wondering just when Arthur will discover that he's left a coathanger inside his blazer. Then there's his partially successful demonstration of how the food of the pharaohs (falafels) was prepared. And who could fail to thrill at the appearance of the first recorded ventriloquist's mummy, Tiny Tut?
This expert in the field of "Egyptian alcohology", a man who thinks the plural of sarcophagus is "sargophageese", is a true gent and a scholar, sharing with us entries from explorer Lord Carnforth's journal. Inevitably he concludes with a tribute to his favourite actor, Rex Harrison, the original Dr Doolittle, "who spoke to some animals". Quite wonderful.
Venue 38: 17.45 (1hr), to 26 Aug (not 12 and 19), 0131-226 2151
Comedy: Neil Mullarkey Don't be Needy, be Succeedy, Assembly Rooms
By Steve Jelbert
Playing the truly terrifying motivational speaker extraordinaire L Vaughan Spencer, Neil Mullarkey is hyperactive, simultaneously patronising and terrorising the audience. Leaving no cliché unturned in his quest to turn us into "succeeders", L Vaughan, aka L-Vo, the gangster motivator, resorts to rapping so poor that even Fringe audiences might notice.
This rapid-fire attack is as wearing as a real workplace seminar, but through sheer chutzpah Mullarkey just about pulls it off. If you can bear the sight of a hairstyle combining two fashion faux pas (it's best described as a "pony mullet"), this could be your show. Just don't sit in the front row. Of course, the real joke is that people like Mullarkey's awful creation are making thousands a day flaunting wisdom no more profound than this.
Venue 3: 20.00 (1hr), to 26 Aug, 0131-226 2428
Dance: BhuKham & Sarpagati, St Stephens
By Sarah Barrell
An offering is made to a serpent at the foot of tree. Dressed in simple short dhotis, three dancers strike stat- uesque martial arts poses, linked with limber yoga stretches. Progressing fluidly on to two ropes suspended from the flies, they wind their way up, bodies intertwining, creating exquisite multi-limbed creatures, serenely suspended four metres above the ground.
Bhukham and Sarpagati, by the Daksha Sheth Dance company (led by Sheth, one of India's most progressive contemporary dancers) is part of a showcase of international theatre and dance from Aurora Nova, a programme combining the work of Potsdam's Fabrik with Brighton's Commedia, which last year spawned three Fringe First Awards. With intimate, erotic movements invoking the tantric energy of Kundalini, the first half of the show celebrates the significance of snake worship in Indian culture, drawing on the martial art of Kalaripayattu (from Kerala, southern India).
The second segment, Bhukham, as a somewhat comical voiceover tells us, explores the realms of outer space. A little green alien contorts its multiple limbs and a dancer takes to the rafters in a robust aerial rope ballet. Silver latex and moulded Perspex characterise the costume, but the movements, though more aggressively angular, are no less beguilingly beautiful.
Venue 8: various times (1hr) to 24 Aug (not 12 or 19), 0131-558 3853