Edinburgh Reviews: Sandel (The Space), Howie the Rookie (Assembly on the Mould)

Sandel, The Space @ Surgeons’ Hall ✭✭✭

“The gay Lolita” is how Sandel was billed when Angus Stewart’s novel first appeared in 1968. Groundbreaking and controversial at the time, it gained brief notoriety before vanishing. How fortunate then that Glenn Chandler, writer and creator of Taggart, has unearthed this historical curio and given it new life in a stage version.
Stripped back to just three characters, Sandel must nonetheless cover a tremendous amount of exposition and plot, and Chandler’s adaptation proves adept at keeping the story moving along. There are some staging issues in the venue: the scenes which take place on the rug are not visible from the back row, and the use of music and dimmed lights to indicate a change of scene quickly becomes grating. The pace drops a little in the overly long second act, but on the whole this is a credible adaptation and an important play which refuses to sensationalise the story, but rather breathes a new air of romanticism into it. Chandler’s young cast are senstive to the material too, with Ryan Penny turning in a particularly outstanding and nuanced performance.

*** (3 stars)
Runs until 24th August
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Howie the Rookie, Assembly on the Mound ✭✭✭✭✭

If there is only time to see one play in Edinburgh, then Howie the Rookie should be that one. This is a stunning tour-de-force solo performance by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, surely one of the most exciting and thrilling actors of his generation. Rare it is to find a marriage of text and performance so perfectly executed with breathtaking precision and clarity. Vaughan-Lawlor offers a virtuoso marriage of his physicality with writer Mark O’Rowe’s brutal poetry, juxtaposing an elegance of movement with the alarmingly violent lyricism of the electrifying text. Two intertwining tales of Dublin gangland are brought thrillingly to life, each as blunt and dangerous as they are musical and romantic. This is astonishingly brutal poetry in performance. Utterly exceptional – the audience held their breath. Vaughan-Lawlor ricochets between a still silence and rabid, explosive rage, displaying a phenomenal range and tender appreciation for text and stagecraft. Every movement is so perfectly executed and graceful that it is almost scored, like a dance, or ballet. Howie the Rookie is an astonishing realisation of a taut, tense script – this is possibly the finest performance that the Fringe has to offer.

***** (5 stars)
Runs until 25th August
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