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Published on Monday, 10 August 2009

When I'm sitting in my bath-chair fifty years from now, reminiscing about a golden age gone by, this is how I'll remember the Edinburgh Fringe. I'll forget all those high-priced spectaculars; I'll forget all the big TV names. In my mind, the Fringe of my youth will be stuffed full of funny, endearing, low-budget shows - shows like Picaresque.

Performing at the brand-new Sweet Heart venue off George IV Bridge, Picaresque follows two gadabout explorers as they race across an imaginary continent, in a desperate quest to keep an appointment at the Lovely Tea House in London. It's not the world's strongest plot, but it does the job, linking together a series of sketches about the increasingly-preposterous foreign climes the two heroes hurry through.

The energetic six-member cast switched between their roles with ease, playing - for example - a surprisingly erudite monkey and an intransigent border guard with equal ease. The sketches, I admit, were funny rather than side-splitting, and a few laboured the joke for a bit too long. But there were no true duds, and the personable actors stayed sharp and energetic throughout.

The star of the show, though, was the ever-present narrator. Being on the stage, yet outside the world of the plot, she was ideally placed to lampoon the show's questionable production values - often remonstrating with the characters for the perceived failings of their act. The narrator's role is an inspired trick and a rich vein of comedy, complemented by Rebecca Shorrocks' well-judged jolly-hockey-sticks delivery.

As Rebecca observed, the play has a "frankly illogical treatment of time and space" - which, for a gleefully silly romp like this one, isn't automatically a problem. All the same, the story-telling felt a little under-developed; the two main characters were practically interchangeable, and the surreal worlds they wandered through had no particular pattern to them. I'd have liked to have seen more made of the journey, and to have a sense of the travellers' progress across the admittedly-fantastical map. Journey's end, when it came, was all but unheralded, and the long-awaited Tea House reunion wasn't quite fulfilling or silly enough.

All the same, when you can get an audience whooping and cheering an actor for jumping over a two-foot-high bit of cardboard, you're clearly doing something right. The fun was infectious: I just felt better for seeing Picaresque, and I think those around me did too. It won't be the most spectacular show you see this year - but it might be one of the most heart-warming.

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