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The Beta Males' Picnic in 'The Bunker'
Published on Saturday, 28 August 2010

5 stars

Underbelly, Cowgate (venue website)
Until 29 Aug, 11:35pm (12:35am)
Reviewed by Craig Thomson

The End Days have come – and not just because it's the last weekend of the Fringe, either.  The Beta Males Picnic face an unspecified but completely effective planetary cataclysm by locking themselves, and you along with them, in The Bunker.

The Beta Males Picnic, a four-piece sketch group, have two shows on at the Fringe this year.  If late-night comedy is not your thing, you can catch them in a lunchtime show on at a free venue.  But if you are able to stay up past bed time, then you won't find a funnier or more moving sketch experience this side of Judgment Day.

The sketches are anchored by the post-apocalyptic theme and setting, giving a continuity that is welcome, rather than flitting from one random skit to the next.  It is my personal belief that the returning television drama is the best contemporary storytelling format, and The Bunker, in some sense, captures elements of what makes that format so good: the breathing time to develop individual stories and characters which combine into an impressive and interconnected whole.  The world-building goes beyond the stage – try to grab one of the fantastic flyers which fold out into a broadsheet newspaper page.  Even their press release was burned and stained, so committed was the vision.

The story at work loosely follows the son of the late Prime Minister, known as 'Orphan Zero', and his attempts to gain revenge against the security forces in the underground shelter who were responsible for his father's death.  Along the way, we meet mad scientists and robots, comatose disaster victims and new parents, radio presenters driven mad by the one surviving musical recording (Vengabus, by the Venga Boys) and more.

The scenes, while coarse and hilarious, are also well-acted and often oddly moving.  Who couldn't be touched by the robotic midwife, for instance, who wants a child of her own?  And after the final, fatal confrontation with the evil Mr Corfax, all the stories of The Bunker collide in a mad medley of resolutions, all to the strains of Venga unplugged and sympathetic sighs from the audience.

The Bunker is a dark dystopian satire, but is also one of the funniest and most genuinely pleasing shows I've seen this year.  I really appreciate the living and breathing world of barely living and breathing misfits and survivors which The Beta Males Picnic have created here, and I urge you to see it before it's too late.  We only have a few days left.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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