Fringe Theatre Reviews: Paines Plough

Feature by Alice Lannon | 14 Aug 2015

Lungs [★★★★☆], part of the Paines Plough residency at Summerhall, is more than beautiful – it is alive and breathing. The best kind of theatre slaps you in the face and leaves you reeling as you enter the outside world with a newfound clarity. Lungs does exactly this. Two actors on a bare stage are utterly captivating as they take the audience with them through the twists and turns of their relationship and beyond. It is easy to forget there are only two people on stage, a testament to the vivid nature of the show.

Chicken [★★★☆☆] is nightmarish and strange, giving the audience an impression of the essence of East Anglia, while at the same time containing a dark undercurrent of teenage mental illness. There are many interesting strands, which somewhat frustratingly are not pushed to their full potential or linked together coherently. However, given the fragmented nightmare style tone of the play, this does not do too much damage. Given its lack of a strong storyline, it feels more like an atmospheric piece, yet still interesting to watch. 

I’m Not Here Right Now [★★★☆☆] is another atmospheric play about knowledge, belief and father/daughter relationships. As a scientist struggles to prove to her colleagues that she has seen a yeti, she experiences echoes of her father as she tries to process his betrayal. The storyline is interesting, but is quite incoherent at times as well as lacking depth. One actress largely mimes while an actor reads her thoughts and movements at the side – a interesting and effective set up; however there are a few glaring glitches in the communication between them. The play gets more interesting as it goes on, but the two threads of seeing the yeti and her father's betrayal are only linked suggestively where it would have been more interesting to explore and link them more explicitly. Overall this cold, shadowy play still has something to offer.

Strange and captivating, The Human Ear [★★★★☆] once again lives up to Paines Plough’s impeccable standard of excellence. This production is essentially an examination of the sibling bond, of knowledge versus intuition and of the unreliability of our own minds during intense stress and grief. It's sharp and clever, the plot twisting all over the place keeps the audience guessing relentlessly. A man turns up at Lucy’s front door claiming to be her brother, but can it really be him? Is gut instinct that he says he is who he is really enough? 

Every Brilliant Thing [★★★★★] is fabulously life-affirming. Jonny Donahoe is immediately engaging as a young boy who makes a list of 'every brilliant thing' for his suicidal mother, and the play follows his journey as he continues this list growing up. There is a lot of audience participation in this show which works and keeps everyone gripped, while at the same time forming a reminder that mental illness is not a distant issue and affects all our lives in one way or another. Through this participation and Donahoe’s magnetic charisma, a substantial theatre audience is turned into an intimate group where everyone feels personally involved. Theatre about mental illness can potentially succumb to one of two pitfalls – either too gratingly and unrealistically optimistic, or too miserable and pessimistic. Every Brilliant Thing swerves these problems... well, brilliantly in a show that acknowledges real suffering but also provides real hope. Powerfully, stunningly, joyfully uplifting – you’ll be rushing off to start your own list too.

Lungs, Summerhall, 'til 30 Aug (not 17-18, 20, 22, 25) 3:35pm/10:30pm, 17/£15/£9

Chicken, Summerhall 'til 30 Aug (not 18, 24) 5:05pm £16/£14

The Human Ear, Summerhall 'til 30 Aug (not16, 18-19, 21, 23, 25) 3:35pm, £15

I'm Not Here Right Now, Summerhall, 'til 30 Aug (not 18, 25) 6:25 pm £11/£9

Every Brilliant Thing, Summerhall 'til 30 Aug (not 18, 25), £17