Gleeful farces, world-class puppetry and the death of the ampersand

Day 3 of Nicky Woolf's Edinburgh diary.

 

August 10. Day three.

 

My first show this morning is the other half of Greenlight Theatre's Seeing Double. While yesterday's show (Visions) followed the production crew of a doomed production of Macbeth, today, in Figures, we join the cast and director in their rehearsal room. When you see both of the shows, the first serves as the set-up, then the second reveals just how clever the production is. Knowing what the other participants are doing and saying in the other room, and knowing where they're going as they rush on and off-stage makes the second show a real pay-off, and the effect is both a gleeful farce and a deeply impressive piece of synchronisation.

After that, deciding to stick with Pleasance, I dive straight in to Les Enfents Terribles' The Trench. Enfents Terribles are fringe veterans, and their latest offering, about a World War 1 sapper trapped underground, is slick and brimming with gorgeous stagecraft; the puppetry especially is world-class, and the ethereal atmosphere is underscored by the soundtrack by singer-songwriter Alexander Wolfe.

Today is to be a quieter day than yesterday. I need to settle down, get my bearings, and plan my schedule, so I spend the afternoon hot-desking with the staff of Twitter-based review site Fringebiscuit, who themselves spend much of the afternoon debating the death of the ampersand in the 21st century (the Twitter API can't handle this useful piece of punctuation. Why not?), before heading to C Nova to see Loves I Haven't Known, a small and utterly perfect musical comedy piece by Bush and McCluskey, the team behind Tony! The Blair Musical. Optimistic and bittersweet, it is truly a five-star show.

Speaking to the two of them in the C Nova bar after the show, they tell me that tonight's was their biggest audience yet. The fringe is beginning to gain momentum; this is the point at which shows like theirs begin to see their labours finally, thankfully, beginning to bear fruit.

Catch up with Day 1 here and Day 2 here.

Kufasse Boana and Danielle Hollreiser, who are playing the witches in a production of Macbeth on Inchcolm Island. Photo: Getty

Nicky Woolf is a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

HELEN SLOAN / THE FALL 3 LTD
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The Fall is back - and once again making me weary

Five more episodes to go, after which its “feminist” writer (his word, not mine), Allan Cubitt, should pull the plug on it at last. Plus: Damned.

It is with much weariness that I return to The Fall (Thursdays, 9pm), the creepy drama that still doesn’t know whether it wants to be a horror-fest or a love story. I’ve written in the past about what I regard as its basic misogyny – to sum up, it seems to me to make a fetish of the violence committed against women, a preoccupation it pathetically tries to disguise by dint of its main character being a female detective – and I don’t propose to return to that theme now. However, in its early days, it was at least moderately gripping. Now, though, it appears to be recovering from some kind of nervous breakdown. If in series two the plot was wobbling all over the place, series three has misplaced the idea of drama altogether. Nothing is happening. At all.

To recap: at the end of the last series, Paul Spector, aka the Belfast Strangler (Jamie Dornan), had been shot while in police custody, somewhat improbably by a man who blames him for the demise of his marriage (oh, that Spector were only responsible for breaking up a few relationships). On the plus side for his supposed nemesis, DSI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), before he fell he led them to Rose Stagg, the ex-girlfriend he’d locked in the boot of a car some days previously, and she is going to live. On the minus side, Spector’s injuries are so bad, it’s touch and go whether he’ll survive, and so Gibson may never see him brought to justice. Of course, the word “justice” is something of a red herring here.

The real reason she wants Spector to live is more dubious. As she stared at his body in the ICU, all tubes and monitors, her expression was so obviously sexual – her mouth opened, and stayed that way, as her eyes ran over every part of his body – that I half expected her to reach out and stroke him. Just in time for this nocturnal visit, she’d slipped into another of her slinky silk blouses that look like poured cream. (Moments earlier – think Jackie Kennedy in 1963 – she’d still been covered in her love object’s blood.)

The entire episode took place at the hospital, police procedural having morphed suddenly into Bodies or Cardiac Arrest. Except, this was so much more boring and cliché-bound than those excellent series – and so badly in need of their verisimilitude. When I watch The Fall, I’m all questions. Why doesn’t Stella ever tie her hair back? And why does she always wear high heels, even when trying to apprehend criminals? For how much longer will the presumably cash-strapped Police Service of Northern Ireland allow her to live in a posh hotel? Above all, I find myself thinking: why has this series been so acclaimed? First it was nasty, and then it was only bad. Five more episodes to go, after which its “feminist” writer (his word, not mine), Allan Cubitt, should join Gibson in the ICU, where together they can ceremonially pull the plug on it at last.

Can Jo Brand do for social workers in her new comedy, Damned, what she did a few years ago for geriatric nurses in the brilliant Getting On? I expect she probably can, even though this Channel 4 series (Tuesdays, 10pm), co-written with Morwenna Banks and Will Smith, does have an awfully inky heart. Hungry children, drug-addict parents, a man who can go nowhere without his oxygen tank: all three were present and correct when Rose (Brand) went to visit a client who turned out to be a woman who, long ago, had nicked her (Rose’s) boyfriend. Ha ha? Boohoo, more like.

Damned is basically The Office with added family dysfunction. Al (Alan Davies) is a hen-pecked wimp, Nitin (Himesh Patel) is a snitch, and Nat (Isy Suttie) is the stupidest and most annoying temp in the Western world. This lot have two bosses: Martin (Kevin Eldon), a kindly widower, and Denise (Georgie Glen), the cost-cutting line manager from hell. And Rose has a plonker of an ex-husband, Lee (Nick Hancock). “I’ve been invited to the Cotswolds for the weekend,” he told her, trying to wriggle out of looking after the children. “Is that why you look like a knob?” she replied.

Jerky camerawork, naturalistic acting, a certain daring when it comes to jokes about, say, race: these things are pretty familiar by now, but I like it all the same.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories