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'Underneath the Lintel' by Glen Berger
Published on Saturday, 14 August 2010

4.5 stars

Assembly @ Assembly Hall (venue website)
Until 29 Aug (not 23), 2:15pm (3:30pm)
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

House lights still up, audience still chatting, a man in a crumpled suit makes his way to the stage.  He’s a small-time librarian from small-town Holland… or at least, he used to be.  One day, he explains, he found an overdue book on his desk; it was the starting point for a mystery which came to consume his life.  And surrounded by the paraphernalia of education – a blackboard and a badly-focussed projector – he’s going to tell us his tale.

This is a one-man play, and the one man, Philip O’Sullivan, inhabits his character with a deceptively easy charm.  I’m not sure about the accent, but everything else was flawless: the unknowing pomposity, the hidden loneliness, the barely-suppressed anger over trivial minutiae of life.  The comic timing was masterful – this is, often, a very funny script – and the humour is deliciously dry.  It came out, most of all, in his occasional rambling diversions; his thoughts on the pastime of fox hunting are a particular joy.

The trail of clues he follows at first seems inconsequential, with his suitcase yielding up carefully-numbered exhibits as banal as a tram ticket and a dirty pair of trousers.  But slowly and relentlessly, it reels you in; before long, we’re joining our rumpled protagonist in a global manhunt, in search of a man of mystery we feel sure must be more important than we know.  And so, later – when we almost see his face, almost hear his voice – I realized I was, like our librarian, obsessed with knowing more.

And it is, indeed, an obsession.  As our travelling antihero throws away his job to follow the trail around the world, we fear we may be cursing himself to the same miserable fate as his quarry.  But still the jigsaw pieces fit; still, one clue leads on to another.  Is he guided by chance?  Divine intervention?  Or nothing more than madness?

I don’t think that question’s ever meant to be answered – but then again, I’m just not sure.  The progression of clues, which earlier guided us from stop to stop with all the certainty of the tube map, suddenly derailed.  There was one scene I out-and-out didn’t understand, and I’m left with the queasy feeling that perhaps I’ve missed the point of it all.  But weirdly, it doesn’t matter.  As I walked down the steps of the Assembly Hall, three or four resolutions to the mystery were fighting it out in my mind – and I kind-of liked it that way.

There’s one conundrum that’s unambiguously solved – the significance of the lintel in the title – but that’s a secret I can’t give away; you’ll have to see it yourself to find out what it means.  And you should see this curious, shambling, but thoroughly enjoyable production; it’s satisfyingly intriguing, ultimately uplifting, and ensures you’ll never look at a discarded book in quite the same way again.

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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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