Washed-up junkies, Trump the director and a cash giveaway: Edinburgh Festival round-up

11 August 2018

9:00 AM

11 August 2018

9:00 AM

Trump Lear is a chaotically enjoyable one-man show with a complicated premise. David Carl, an American satirist, has arrived on stage to perform King Lear when Donald Trump’s voice interrupts him from the wings. The President threatens to kill him unless he delivers an accessible version of the Shakespeare classic ‘that isn’t boring’. With improvised puppets, Carl rattles through the play while Trump interrupts and offers directorial notes. Something weird happens. A curious mutual admiration springs up between the artist and his patron. Despite its messy presentation, the show works because Carl is a superb impressionist and his wide-ranging gags hit the mark more often than not. The action is interspersed with TV adverts promoting Trump-branded products, which include academies for high-earning parents. ‘You’ll never have to attend a school event with criminals and rapists again.’

Galway-based Druid theatre brings its version of Waiting for Godot to the International Festival. Deliberately stagey performances portray the tramps as out-of-work vaudevillians rather than suicidal outcasts who get beaten up every night by mysterious thugs. This is an urbane and perhaps over-civilised production which is so sure of its comic effects that the laughter comes infrequently. Lucky’s speech is performed brilliantly by Garrett Lombard, whose blond fright-wig stands two feet high off his head. He looks like Jon Bon Jovi struck by lightning.

Dominic Frisby’s Financial Game Show offers cash prizes to audience members who take part in a trivia quiz. Example: ‘Which is more valuable today, gold or platinum?’ It’s gold. Platinum has slumped recently. Those answering correctly reach a second heat, and after a further round of questions a winner is announced. He’s given a locked safe and a code to break. The audience are encouraged to help him crack the code. At the show I attended, the winner solved the puzzle straight away. Inside the safe lay £500, which he stuffed into his pockets. Frisby seemed oddly thrilled to have lost so much prize money at the start of the festival. Besides acting, he moonlights as a financial journalist and he has the rare knack of making economics fun. A few years ago, before the Bitcoin craze took hold, Frisby showed a friend how to buy an ice cream by downloading two pound’s worth of the cryptocurrency on to his mobile. The transaction failed, so the investment remained on the phone’s hard drive. When the currency peaked, the friend sold the unspent Bitcoins and received enough cash to buy a new car. This is an enjoyable and undemanding show whose main asset is the mercurially witty Frisby. Daytime TV should snap him up.

Angry Alan is a solo piece written by the dramatist Penelope Skinner. We meet Roger, an ageing American deadbeat, whose wife has left him and whose teenage son visits him rarely. Roger joins an online community of loners and losers led by an embittered misogynist, Angry Alan. Alan believes that feminism has marginalised men and left them as neutered victims of ‘the gynocracy’. Roger loves this idea. He attends a conference of woman-haters and later tries to contact his son who has some ‘news’ to share. No marks for guessing that the ‘news’ is connected to the son’s gender. From here the play lurches into an abrupt and melodramatic ending. Skinner is a skilful delineator of women’s sexual tribulations but she loses her way in the alien terrain of damaged males. I found this show weird and uncomfortable to watch, and I was surrounded by women who seemed to be giggling out of pity for poor Angry Alan and his sad army of misfits. We were laughing for all the wrong reasons.

The Political History of Smack and Crack mixes comedy-drama with snatches of historical analysis. Mrs Thatcher, according to this show, deliberately increased Britain’s junkie population from 3,000 in 1981 to more than 300,000 just four years later. (Their statistics.) Evil Thatch was freaked out by the summer riots of 1981 so she decided to swamp Britain with class-A drugs in order to zombify the upstart urban masses. Luckily, this policy suited her global ambitions as well. The market in Afghan heroin was controlled by revolutionaries who were fighting a regime that Thatcher herself sought to topple. The same was true of Nicaragua and its cocaine market. Thus she synthesised her domestic and her foreign policy aims simultaneously. This rather barmy idea is the most pro-Thatcher argument I’ve ever heard. It credits the Iron Lady with a level of geopolitical prescience that even her diehard fans would struggle to support. Wonky politics aside, this is a wonderful show with a winning mixture of documentary, nostalgia and drama. At its heart is a tragic-comic romance between a washed-up Manchester junkie and his shoplifting girlfriend. Two great actors, Neil Bell and Eve Steele, bring a lot of fun-loving cynicism to their on-the-edge characters.

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