A steady diet of carnage and canapes

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The best thing about getting to Edinburgh early is that you can enjoy those peaceful few days before the arrival of the street mime artists. By the time you read this, there'll be a gold-sprayed man outside the Fringe Office feeling an invisible glass wall, and a Pierrot on Princes Street who thinks body popping is a really good idea. Negotiating this sort of rubbish is a simple matter of crossing the road, but the Fringe brochure contains many potentially dreadful experiences into which you may stumble blindly through no fault of your own. However, there are strategies which may save you from total despair. First, take your brochure and cross out everything that describes itself as "darkly comic". You'll be suprised how much this will unburden you. Second, make your experience comprehensive and coherent by picking a theme and sticking to it. You might, for example, go for shows with National Enquirer titles: Lady Macbeth Firmed My Buttocks, A Wheelie Bin Ate My Sister, or An Alien Stole My Skateboard. Third, think very, very hard before you go to see a student play.

Ultraviolence and sandwiches are this year's leitmotifs in the punters' Grimpen Mire that is university drama: at the sharper end there's Richard Marsh's Mice (C Theatre), a perky piece of Orwelliana in which three lifers beat each other about with ham sandwiches and vomit blood into coffee cups. The play promises more than it delivers, but Marsh's dialogue is rich with a persuasively perverse abbattoir humour. At the same venue, Ed Roe's The Brief Cases shows a similar interest in carnage and canapes: here we get a secret policeman's brawl on a chicken-salad-sandwich-strewn table. Other campus-bred brutalities include an unauthorised adaptation of Reservoir Dogs (Drummond Community Theatre) in which the boys from the University of Southern California go to work with admirable efficiency. This has more gunshots than the movie, and in such a small venue that's hard on the ears; but not as hard as it is on the ears of Marvin Nash (David Polcyn), who has one razored acrobatically off by Walker Mullin's monstrous Mr Blond. It's guaranteed to put you off your bedtime Tunnocks teacake.

Violence is also at the heart of Joy-ridden (Diverse Attractions Complex), the latest offering from the ceaselessly inventive Talking Birds company. Here, a repair man (Nick Walker) and a crash junkie (Claire Kirkby) discover uplifting intimacy in the remains of a lethal road accident. Both perform with breakneck dynamism, but Walker is something extraordinary: from the moment he clambers from the wreckage with eyes like two eggs on a plate, a face like a bloodied steak and a mouth stuffed with twice the normal number of teeth, his aphasic monologuing commands breathless attention. This is a compelling, stylish performance piece that deserves to pack the squashy seats of Venue 51.

Another of this year's more arresting innovations is Cinergy, a multimedia cabaret club that makes all those iffy productions of Huis Clos look distinctly unappetising. Fronted by Alan Connors, ex-presenter of The Word, Cinergy promises a bizarre conjunction of new short films, opera and Surreal Bingo. As well as commandeering the Odeon, Clerk Street, Connors's gang have set up a second HQ in a shed in the Pleasance courtyard. Formerly The Smallest Cinema in the World, now renamed MiniCinergy, it will be crammed with a string octet and independent shorts. Richard Bracewell's Low Budget Film features a towering performance from Michael Cronin (Bullet Baxter of Grange Hill) and is a witty highlight of their programme. "We were going to have a grand opening cere-mony with dwarfs riding Shetland ponies," says Connors, "but that was considered a bit tasteless. We're after Norman Lamont as a replacement."

Also at the Pleasance, Gavin Robertson and Andy Taylor's Fantastic Voyage (Pleasance One) is the son of Thunderbirds F.A.B. - an hommage to the articulated latex world of Ray Harryhausen, titan among monster animators. Like a pair of mynah birds who've learnt to mimic the phone ringing, Robertson and Taylor know how to go "boing" and "aargh" with frightening accuracy. Every movement is accompanied by squeaks, whirrs or creaks, and with these noises and deft footwork they conjure a stop-motion menagerie of clattering skeleton warriors, chattering homunculi and chugging Edwardian submarines. Pedants might grumble that the narrative owes more to those Doug McClure- discovers-the-dinosaurs films of the Seventies than to Harryhausen's more oriental adventures, but you won't catch me doing that.

Less self-consciously weird is Look at It This Way (Hill Street Theatre), an evening of gently dialectical delights offered by socialist magician Ian Saville and Marxist songwriter Leon Rosselson, two lovely men with the worst haircuts in Scotland. No other show in town could offer you a trick that explains the injustices of gas privatisation, or a ventriloquist's dummy of William Morris exclaiming, "I had to minister to the swinish luxuries of the rich." It's like two daffy uncles performing at a bar mitzvah, and done with stirring sincerity. "Now say the magic words, 'Mass Action for a Radical Transformation of Society'." They will stay on my lips until the end of the Festival.