Laughing Horse @ The Bier Keller, Edinburgh – until 11 August 2019
Sassy, rude and distinctly scuzzy round the edges, the Anonymous Badger Creative’s production of Down It Fresher! in the Free Fringe is a case of writing what you know about.
Here is the story of Frida the Fresher, caught up in the tangled web of the Drama society at the Fresher’s Fair, who jumps ship on her first night out with her new pals and falls into bed with a hugely unsuitable Matt – a third year from a rival university.
Mari Clementine Gruer and Lisa Emily Peterson, who share writing, directing and producing credits, have created all sorts of recognisable elements, from the rituals of student life to the dynamic between Edinburgh’s further education institutions and, especially, the city’s night life.
Isla Fairfield smashes it as Frida – bright-eyed, naive and longing for adventure – as she starts at Napier. Gem Malek is more caustic and cynical as her new-found best pal Mags and her quick tutoring of her protege in the ways of student life, the use of alcohol and acceptably off-hand behaviour towards anyone you might tumble in to bed with.
Mackenzie Paterson as Kale and Joshua O’Brien as Josh, create solid characters as their pals in the Drama society. There’s a bit of cliche here, but also more depth, particularly from Paterson and Malek, when it turns out that Kale and Mags’ relationship is quite the most interesting and universal element of the play’s first half.
The truisms of student life are drawn in humorously enough, from Ryan Farquharson’s dope-smoking D&D type, The Caterpillar, to Charlotte Small’s Kriesten the Christian who harbours her own secret fantasies, and Niamh O’Donnel’s sporty Sarah, captain of all the women’s teams.
There is not much more depth to Elliot Linden’s posh boy Matt from Edinburgh university, and his pals Jack Oliver (Hector) and Calum Manchip (Lawrence). Bloke-ish English toffs, the three of them, the narrative drive comes largely from Matt’s X-rated relationship with Frida.
The company has a strong, no-nonsense approach to handling the problems of a Free Fringe venue: noise bleeding in from the adjacent bar; seagulls audible through the awning; very little by way lighting; and stage furniture which is apt to fall off the tiny playing area.
They are all strong enough performers to speak over the extraneous sounds, while the failures of the set are easily brushed aside.
Mind you, the club soundtrack is not exactly quiet – several key scenes take place in the Hive nightclub (or just “Hive”, if you are cool) and are helped by a sometimes magnificent soundtrack that includes the company-written and mixed Stereotypical Club Song, together with some nicely coordinated movement elements.
If there is the odd technical difficulty with the writing and a tendency to hints at greater depth without ever exploring it to any satisfying degree, there is much here that really pleases.
Anyone who has been a Fresher at any time since the late Sixties will no doubt recognise much, and there are some hugely sympathetic expressions of the tensions and intimacies of forming relationships.
Modern elements are used both well and less so. The use of texting is a strong idea – but it is presented in a less than dynamic manner. While the texts are both funny and revealing, having the actors just stand around looking at their phones is a bit deadening, especially when the screen representation of the phone is not large at all.
The whole is built in a rather episodic structure, which makes for plenty of properly hilarious depictions of student life, which the company deliver with slickness and a certain panache.
Running time: 1 hour
Laughing Horse @ The Bier Keller (Venue 154), 14 Picardy Place, EH1 3JT
Thursday 1 – Sunday 11 August.
Further details: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/down-it-fresher.