Edinburgh Round-Up: <br/>The Girl on the Sofa; <br/>Jackie Clune is Boy Crazy! <br/>The Bees; <br/>Piazzolla Quintets; <br/>The Chinese State Circus; <br/>The Blue Orphan

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Theatre: The Girl on the Sofa, Royal Lyceum Theatre

Theatre: The Girl on the Sofa, Royal Lyceum Theatre

By Paul Taylor

The Girl on the Sofa is being touted as the kind of brilliant cross-cultural hook-up that makes international festivals worthwhile. Its author is Jon Fosse, a Norwegian dramatist who is all the rage in Europe but who has yet to convince the British of his importance. Its director is the German wunderkind Thomas Ostermeier, its cast is English and its translator, David Harrower, is Scottish. On paper, this intricate collaboration looks to have been made in heaven. On the stage of the Royal Lyceum, however, it has resulted in a purgatorial 80 minutes of irritating portentousness.

There is one sequence where this dull, self-regarding piece flares into disturbing life. An adolescent girl taunts her older sister about the sexy clothes she has started wearing and the goaded young woman retaliates by decking out her pubertal junior in lipstick, lacy black bra and suspender belt and forcing her to hold a doll. Having created a grotesque image of nubile precocity, the sister proceeds to fondle the girl's breasts in a cackling parody of male arousal. There's an unsettling mix of sibling intimacy and hostility in this pervy dressing-up game and it throws into graphic but credible relief the difficulties of coming to terms with budding sexuality in an unstable 1970s household. In general, though, the garb this pseudo-significant play brings to mind is not female underwear but the Emperor's New Clothes.

The drama is mediated to us through the woman that adolescent girl became. Now approaching middle-age, she is trying to paint a portrait of her teenage self, but she's beginning to doubt more than her artistic ability. We see how her life was blighted by the collapse of her parents' marriage when her seafaring father returned home and discovered his wife in flagrante with his brother. In Ostermeier's beautifully lit but underpowered production, past and present interweave in the same spaces. The resulting juxtapositions are like a diagram of how the past is a continuing and deforming presence.

Unfortunately, the play itself is little more than a diagram, with some characters given barely enough existence to establish their position on the psychological hang-up chart. On the evidence of this piece and Nightsongs, staged at the Royal Court, Fosse's plays are so bald and banal as scripts that they fool audiences into thinking that there must be some great underlying profundity. If international festivals are about winning new friends for foreign artists, then I fear that Edinburgh has done Fosse few favours with this commission.

Today, 14.30 and 19.30 (0131- 473 2000)

Comedy: Jackie Clune is Boy Crazy! Assembly Rooms

By Steve Jelbert

Jackie Clune may have come out as a heterosexual only last year, but, boy, has she been catching up fast. After 2001's dysfunctional family show, she's back to her cabaret roots, with accompaniment from piano wizard Al Collingwood. The pair have cooked up a new set of songs, and from the title number onwards, it's a glorious cringefest as this middle-aged neophyte brazenly del- ights in her discovery of the easily controllable idiocy of men. A spectacularly tasteless song dedicated "to my unborn child", threatening the scamp with all manner of abortive methods, seems to have more to do with Clune's lapsed Catholicism than the show's other themes. But the Dusty Springfield pastiche "You'll Do", where she pleads that she doesn't want to die alone, before steaming into the audience looking for couples to offer tips on how they manage it, is successful both as comedy and music. What next? Bestiality?

Venue 3: 20.00 (1hr), to 26 Aug, 0131-226 2428

Pop: The Bees, Liquid Rooms

By Steve Jelbert

Though they might be the toast of England, and a surprise nomination for the Mercury Prize, the Isle of Wight's Bees have yet to register with the public north of the border. In front of a desultory crowd, the eclectic pop band did their best to liven up the place. But at this time of year the Scottish capital is possibly the least stoned spot on the planet, and the Bees' amiable, funky workouts were largely received with indifference. Some of the longer grooves seemed hideously dated next to the more excitable contemporary acts (usually from New York) trying to restore the good name of funk-rock. "Angryman" was terrific though, and the languid charm of "Punchbag" survived. But the best response was reserved for the recent single "A Minha Menina", a Sixties composition by Brazilian Jorge Ben, originally recorded by the crazed Sao Paulo teenagers Os Mutantes. When one of the nation's best young bands can't improve on a 35-year-old oddity, one has to despair for British music. Doesn't every town in the country have a band just like this?

Classical: Piazzolla Quintets, Usher Hall

By Raymond Monelle

It was to have been a tribute to the great crossover musician Astor Piazzolla, the man who combined Schoenberg and Argentine tango. We had two members of his former band – the other three being international classical soloists – for a top-quality programme of his pieces, once so controversial, now admired as an extraordinary byway of the last century. But it didn't work. The ear for texture, ability to trim and adjust, and sense of atmosphere of Piazzolla's ensembles were missing in these players. The pianist Joanna MacGregor attacked the clever, sidelong rhythms with aggressive force, filling the middle of the sound with jangling Steinway overtones. Violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky slithered about a bit, as though condescending to moments of back-street sentiment, but mostly sounded as though he was playing Tchaikovsky. The accordionist James Crabb – almost the most virtuosic of the lot – seemed reluctant to use his left hand to sketch in the elusive harmonies. The effect was ugly, mechanical and confused. Piazzolla's own musicians, the guitarist Horacio Malvicino and the bassist Hector Console, looked long-suffering. The audience voted with their feet and departed with glum faces.

Circus: The Chinese State Circus, Meadows Theatre Big Top

By Nadine Meisner

The lights dimmed, the shrill music started and the children fluttered with palpable excitement. We were off: into the 2,000-year-old Chinese art of circus, where gravity doesn't exist, where female warriors batter their multiple male foes to the ground, and where men, resembling airborne fish, dive through overlapping hoops. You can say what you like about Communist regimes, but they train their artists with a dedicated thoroughness that leaves our own efforts looking feebly pedestrian. The women, embodiments of grace and refined precision, twirl plates on the end of sticks, like clusters of trembling blossoms. Foot jugglers play with flaming candelabras. A male group builds elaborate human castles while hanging from poles in impossible positions. And best of all: six women and six chairs line up in vertical equilibrium, slotted like a high-rise arc of dominoes, and then – the mother of amazements – the women perform handstands on their chairs. We have seen Chinese circus ensembles before, but their art remains as humbling as ever. This one, the Changchun Troupe from Jilin province, is as sophisticated as you'll get and deserve a better showcase than the small, shoddy tent with plastic seating they've been given in Edinburgh.

Venue 189: times vary (2hrs), to 24 Aug, 0131-667 0202

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