Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh – until 30 August 2021
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Fear of Roses, by Black Bat Productions at Assembly Roxy, is a crisp, intelligent and thoroughly rewarding three-hander.
Bank manager Tabby (shortly to be promoted) is blackmailed by a mysterious figure called Keely. But how far will Tabby go to save her career? And where does Tabby’s old friend Nicolette, now little more than Tabby’s skivvy, fit in?
Black Bat Productions and their writer-director Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller have two productions at this year’s Fringe. Anyone who has seen one of their previous productions will recognise several of the elements on display in the first of them – a noirish sheen, taut and snappy dialogue, a clever script with well engineered twists, an almost miraculous cool.
These are allied here to a more sophisticated approach to structure and direction that means the whole production hangs together remarkably well. Although this is a brief play at 45 minutes, no audience should feel shortchanged. No moment is wasted, and (unlike so many Fringe productions) this feels like it is exactly the length it should be.
There is a pleasing pace to Brimmer-Beller’s direction that never feels forced, and the three performers manage to fill the cavernous (and admirably well-regulated) space of the main auditorium at Assembly Roxy.
Amy Gilbrook’s Tabby is both gratingly supercilious and vulnerably perturbed as power relationships change. Dominka Ucar also handles shifts in her character’s position well, and is particularly good at the disappointed, downtrodden former intimate now reduced to a subordinate.
Sophie Boyle’s Keely is icily insistent while still leaving open the possibility that there is more going on than there first appears. Ucar and Boyle are to be replaced by Amelia Chinnock-Schumann and Daniela Cunliffe from the 15th onwards, and – while it would be instructive to see any changes – it seems likely, given the careful directorial hand on display, that the performances will be equally assured.
There are subtle things about power relationships being said (as well, thanks to the characters’ accents, about the British class system) but these are cleverly integrated into the whole.
Brimmer-Beller has worked commendably hard to make this all look so effortless, with several neat touches including a smart piece of misdirection involving the principle of Chekhov’s gun.
Not everything comes off – there are a couple of plot points that do not necessarily make sense when reflected upon later, but during the play they are hardly noticeable. More obvious is the way that some information is revealed at the denouement, which is resolutely old-school and decidedly clunky.
However, this is easily forgiven, as Brimmer-Beller’s handling of the end is far more satisfactory than the vast majority of those many ‘dark comedic plays with twists’ that populate the Fringe so heavily. A notable example of that genre, this is clever, satisfying and highly recommended.
Running time 45 minutes (no interval)
Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU (Venue 139)
Wednesday 4, Saturday 7 – Thursday 26 August 2021
Daily (not Wed 11, Wed 18): 11.00 am
Information and tickets at https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/fear-of-roses
Company website: https://blackbatproductions.mystrikingly.com
Amy Gilbrook (Tabby) and Dominka Ucar (Nicolette). Pic: Black Bat Productions