Fringe Theatre Reviews: Ideastap Winners

Theatre companies from all over the UK pitched productions for this year's Ideastap Underbelly Award – Brute, The Eulogy of Toby Peach, Much Further Out Than You Thought and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Family were among the winners

Feature by Alice Lannon | 20 Aug 2015

The Eulogy of Toby Peach [★★★★☆] is fierce. Fiercely honest, fiercely brave, fiercely moving. Toby Peach has joined the exclusive 'Cancer Club', complete with 'chemotherapy cocktails'. Toby plays both Cancer, a smooth guy in sunglasses, and himself, in a Fight Club esque way. The depiction of Cancer as such a flamboyant, loud character works really well in relation to an illness that is often talked about in scared, hushed tones. Toby doesn’t ever try to talk about it in hushed tones – rather, everything is lights and vivid colours. The story is very sad and very scary, yet it is also full of wonder about the goodness of humanity and the strength of love. A truly moving play that will leave a lasting impact.

Brute [★★★☆☆] is a portrait of just how horrible and strange teenagers can be. 14-year-old Poppy 'used to be such a nice girl' but now is 'just a brute!' It explores the dynamic between groups of friends – the mean games, the plotting against each other – but also spirals into darker territory, touching on mental illness in groups of teenage girls. What feels a little problematic is that the girls who seem unwell are not really dealt with by the end of the story, and her mum angrily tells her she is making it all up. The story doesn’t distinguish whether the girls are just 'angsty attention-seeking teenagers' or properly unwell, and because this thread is not resolved by the end of the play it is easy to read it as trivialising teenage mental illness as simple teenage angst. However, the actress’ delivery is good and she is very believable as a young teenager. Despite its problems, this is a convincing play with some genuinely funny moments.

Much Further Out Than You Thought [★★★★☆] is a thought-provoking piece about the lasting, damaging effects of war on soldiers returning home. The set works very well, a living room is placed in sand, symbolic of his time at war following him home. It has a slow start but improves as it continues and flashes back to his time on tour – it is a testament to the quality of the acting that you forget there is only one man on stage; that you genuinely feel afraid of the plastic gun he is holding. After watching this show, you feel more of an understanding that the trauma soldiers go through can never be forgotten, and can tear apart the lives of those they love. It is a tense watch.

The Hitchikers Guide to the Family [★★★★☆] is a warm, funny and tender play about 'motorways and love'. Ben Norris traces his relationship with his father by recreating his real-life hitchhiking through all the places he’s ever lived, all along the M1. The use of multimedia visuals works very well in the show, as we see real pictures and footage of his trip which make the intimate family tale really come to life. An engaging performer, Norris uses the whole stage to bring the tale to life, and the audience participation works really well to keep the audience hooked. The way he weaves the tales of the people who pick him up together with his own story makes for a lovely tale spanning whole communities of people.

The Eulogy of Toby Peach, Underbelly Cowgate, 'til 30 Aug 2:50pm, £11/£10 (£10/£9)

Brute, Underbelly Cowgate, 'til 31 Aug 4:10pm, £11/£10 (£10/£9)

Much Further Out Than You Thought, Underbelly Cowgate, 'til 30 Aug 3:20pm, £11/£10 (£10/£9)

The Hitchiker's Guide to the Family, Underbelly Cowgate, 'til 30 Aug, 4:40pm, £11/£10 (£10/£9)