For one to two weeks a year I get to live in a dream world; a pie and Irn-Bru fuelled, dramatic orgy of talent and weirdness in one of the finest cities in the UK. Yes, I’ve just arrived back from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Royal Holloway University

Royal Holloway’s associated company, Encompass Productions, brought a stylised flavour of the surreal to The C too venue with their production of What It Feels Like. This original play follows Nick, as he relives moments from his life in a liminal world between life and death, while his body lies in a coma, in hospital.

Actors attired in black, their faces masked, performed adept action sequences. The car crash proved highly impressive as the respective parts of the car and its occupants hurtled with the help of these “ninjas” towards the audience and, in the case of the female protagonist, towards apparent death. All was not lost though, as two disturbingly jovial and mysterious “doctors” helped the couple to relive scenes of love and conflict from their memories of life and to try to learn lessons therein. We could practically see the sun shining down on Hampstead Heath as the couple spent their first picnic together, overshadowed with the continual presence of the two doctors. A slightly cheesy comic-book hero, “self versus self” section ensued, luckily saved by some excellent physicality from the ninjas.

…an original style and physicality…

Sam Holmes’s performance as Nick unfortunately seemed to plateau early, at a stage of indignant anger towards his plight. Despite this the two protagonists worked well together – Ellen Gould’s refined performance as Sarah giving a sensitive colour to Holmes’s state.

A confusing plot did little to overshadow an original style and physicality in this show. The ending was highly moving as the lovers joined together before leaving through two separate doors downstage, (death a white door to the right of the stage, its partner in black, leading to life).

St. George’s University Medics

Over at The Space’s Surgeon’s Hall venue, St. George’s University Medics brought their revue show, Doctors Do Little, to the teatime slot. The production revolved around a sardonic look at the life of young doctors and medical students, drawing strongly on real clinical experiences. The live guitar music accompanying the musical numbers – Total Eclipse of his Heart soundtracked a cardiac arrest – was fine, although the songs failed to achieve anything more than a mildly funny, smirk-worthy calibre.

What the revue was, was a light, digestible comedy giving an insider’s look at medical student life, from the pretentious ordering of cocktails with a twist of orange rind at the student bar, through to the junior doctor confiscating his junkie patient’s stash for his own consumption. What the revue was not was anything more than slightly amusing, at times erring on cringy. No need for a general anaesthetic here, but an injection of witticism would have helped.

Queen Mary University

Queen Mary’s From The Dark Hills was a commedia dell’ arte infused story of one community’s struggle through Margaret Thatcher’s mining reforms in the 1980s. The four actors successfully created a multitude of characters from the local prostitutes through to the widowed lady, trampled by the picketers heading to the mine head. Northern accents, which could have been hashed by a less professional company, were carried off well by the cast, as was a delicate and touching relationship between the central father and son characters. The posh benefactress’ vignettes were hilarious, although her lines were somewhat lost due to her overly exaggerated ‘Received Pronunciation’ voice.

The specific commedia dell’arte elements of the play were also slightly confused; perhaps the company might have benefited from going the whole hog on style, rather than using small elements of physicality and comedy from the Italian tradition. The style did somewhat jar with the serious nature of the play, although the company did well to provide genuinely funny, light moments, before the core of the plot was apparent.

Ultimately a highly entertaining spectacle with a good stylistic basis, high quality acting and an intriguing plot based on a troubling time period in British history.

Here’s looking forward to more from the University of London at next year’s Fringe!

Images courtesy of Encompass productions, St. George’s University Medics and From The Dark Hills

About The Author

Student of English Literature and freelance journalist at Royal Holloway University of London

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