HELP YOURSELF – Edinburgh Fringe

In Edinburgh Festival, Regional theatre, Reviews, Scotland by Thom DibdinLeave a Comment

✭✭✩✩✩   Mealy-mouthed

Just Festival at Central Hall (Venue 295a); Mon 17 – Sat 29 Aug 2015

Help Yourself, Foolproof Theatre’s play about injustice and self-reliance at home and abroad, has its heart in the right place but is strangely ineffectual.

A central story by writer and director Fiona Stewart includes other tales of inequality from around the world and elements devised by the cast. There is no doubting the sincerity of the project – written in partnership with Tearfund Scotland and International Justice Mission UK – or the aptness of its targets.

Philip Todd, Cameron Potts and Kirsty Geddes. Photo: Foolproof Theatre

However, the production is by turns overly earnest and apologetic, which makes for an uneven experience.

The framing tale, about two mismatched brothers deciding what to do with their parents’ garden and the young homeless woman they find there, is decidedly weak. The dialogue is stilted and reliant on clichés, while each plot development can easily be guessed.

When the cast take on the characters of children to relate true-life stories of exploitation and hope from around the world, there is at least an injection of energy into the performance. However, there is still an excess of jolly politeness here that smacks of the worthiest educational theatre, with elements of awkwardness in the performances that mean the humour misses the mark.

Where it really cuts loose is in an over-the-top gameshow segment, demonstrating the difficulties faced by a Zambian woman, complete with ludicrous rules that change during the game. While far from original, its sheer commitment and drive means this is the only time the production reaches the levels of anarchic fun and drive it is so obviously reaching for.

theatrical savvy

One of the interpolated stories is a fairly straight rendition of the Parable of the Talents, which points up one of the problems. There is clearly a strong Christian faith informing the whole enterprise, but there seems to be a reluctance to let it become too obvious. Since the whole play is very definitely putting forward a message, this seems unnecessary.

Instead, what we get is a kind of halfway-house feel, with nobody completely at home. Philip Todd is stronger in the more realistic parts of the story, but less convincing in the more exaggerated parts; for Cameron Potts, the reverse is true. Only the impressive Kirsty Geddes is equally comfortable throughout.

There is enough talent in the ensemble to suggest better could have been done; similarly Fiona Stewart’s inventive direction, and the structure of the piece, show she has a great deal of theatrical savvy.

Last year’s Fringe saw several shows about the referendum that pretended not to be, seemingly in order to avoid offending the audience. There is a similar reasonableness at work here, but a show about poverty, land-grabbing and injustice should be a lot less reasonable than this.

Running time 1 hour
Just Festival at Central Hall (Venue 295a), 2 West Tollcross, EH3 9BP
Monday 17 – Saturday 29 Aug 2015
Daily (not Sunday 23) at 6.30 pm
Book tickets on the EdFringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/help-yourself

ENDS

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Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. He tweets from @AllEdinTheatre and, personally, from @ThomDibdin.

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Thom Dibdin on FacebookThom Dibdin on RssThom Dibdin on Twitter
Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. He tweets from @AllEdinTheatre and, personally, from @ThomDibdin.

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