The Tour Guide / La Concepta, Around Edinburgh
A first-class trip and real belly laughs
Monday 29 August 2011
Bumping the vogue for promenade theatre up a notch, The Tour Guide takes place on an open-top bus that putters around the streets of Edinburgh – and beyond – in one of the most surprising and memorable shows at this year's Fringe.
Meeting behind Waverley station, you're handed a waterproof poncho, a map and a songsheet and ushered into your tartan-upholstered seat (premium price on the top deck, cheap seats down below). Waiting on board is the tour guide, a wiry, nervy fellow with a foam microphone, a nice line in bleak comedy and a score to settle. This, it turns out, is his last bus trip after 19 years on the mic and it's time to go "off-piste" with a spot of truth-telling and a few tweaks to the usual route.
The creation of James Graham, whose witty take-down of marketing, The Whisky Taster, ran at the Bush Theatre last year, The Tour Guide offers a snapshot of 21st-century, recession-hit Edinburgh. No touristy shortbread-and-cashmere trawl, this is a trawl around the city's schizophrenic relationship with money – the elegance of New Town vs the Tesco-pocked streets of Leith – or the high road vs the low road, as the song you find yourself singing goes. In a witty and fascinating monologue, Edinburgh's history of banking (various branches of RBS – or "Right Bloody Sods" are pointed out en route) and debt is intertwined with the guide's own dark tale of financial woe. This latter strand, while superbly performed by Ian Hanmore, is less convincing but as a play that offers a thought-provokingly different perspective on the city, it takes some beating.
Elsewhere, in a quiet, leafy square on the edge of New Town, Simon Munnery has set up his pop-up "restaurant conceptuel", a fast-food experience (it's only 20 minutes long) for four that offers "all the rigamarole of haute cuisine without the shame of eating."
Munnery plays all four members of staff – maître d', waiter, chef and trainee – at this bizarre foodless establishment, offering up such comical culinary delights as Chicken in a Casket and Carpaccio of Parenthood. There are cardboard props, curly swan facts ("served with a great deal of palaver") and an excellent Jamie Oliver-inflected aubergine joke, not to mention the delicious opportunity to enjoy a performance from a real pro, served directly to your table.
The Tour Guide: Four Stars
La Concepta: Four Stars
'La Concepta' (www.laconcepta.fr) ends today
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