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At the Fringe

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beckett‘One does not have to look for distress. It is screaming at you even in the taxis of London,’ Beckett once said. His plays are almost absent from this year’s Edinburgh Fringe – strange, as he is usually given a lot of attention here – but his influence is everywhere.

Below the Breadline, half of Simply See Productions’ Desperate Measures double bill, weaves together stories of young Londoners who hate their jobs and their Tube commute, made marginally more tolerable by the newly available wifi. The stage design has all of them – a publishing intern, a regional manager at PC World, a nurse – stacking and restacking boxes, on which they then sit, glued to their smartphones or dreaming of a move to Zone 3. The other half of Desperate Measures is Philip Ridley’s Moonfleece, about the rise of the far right in Britain, which in 2010 was banned in Dudley (then a BNP stronghold). In this version its characters look like peaceniks compared to the London commuters.

New Diorama’s production of Down & Out in Paris and London is adapted from Polly Toynbee’s Hard Work: Life in Low-Pay Britain (2003) as well as from Orwell’s book, to make the point that there are ways in which the life of the poor hasn’t changed much since 1929. A similar device is at work in 12.10.15 (Proteus Theatre). Edith Cavell was executed on 12 October 1915. A century later, a war correspondent faces a similar fate in a Middle Eastern cell. The one-woman show cuts between the lives of the two heroines, showing the similarities in their situations but also highlighting that a woman killed in war is far less newsworthy today than a century ago.

There’s an explicit if distant allusion to Beckett in Tony’s Last Tape (Nottingham Playhouse), a portrait of the late Tony Benn based on his memoirs. Like Krapp’s Last Tape, it features audio diaries and bananas, but with tea instead of alcohol.

The only real Beckett on offer is Roughs (for Radio), two sketches written in French in the early 1960s and translated into English 15 years later. Monkfish Theatre has undertaken the first staging of Roughs in Britain, but the audience doesn’t see much acting in this ‘immersive theatre experience’ after being blindfolded early on. Beckett discouraged the production of the first sketch, calling it ‘unfinished and now unfinishable’. This stage reading contains music, singing, rustling and heavy breathing as well as dialogue. A woman asks a man various questions; he mainly answers: ‘To the right, madam.’ The second sketch has three characters talking – Animator, Stenographer and Fox – and a fourth cracking a whip. Fox, who is being interrogated, faints after Stenographer violently kisses him, and you can hear his number is up. Animator repeats a line from Stenographer’s notes: ‘Outlook: quite hopeless.’

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