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Number 52
3 stars

Summerhall (venue website)
7-16 Aug, 2:30pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

There are some plays you watch; there are some plays you take part in; this play, above all, is one that you hear.  There's close-harmony singing, there's a humming vacuum cleaner, and they even explore the percussive potential of chopping fruit. It's a striking and distinctive style, which I sense is still in development - but Number 52 gives a tantalising glimpse of something really special to come.

The story, such as it is, is a simple one - the ordinary life of an ordinary suburban family, seen in glimpses through the windows of the eponymous number 52. It's often amusing, and sometimes curiously insightful, but most of all it's achingly familiar - as we see the family's only child progress from babyhood, right through to those rebellious teenage years.

The humour relies a lot on pregnant pauses and uncomfortable silences; the programme, indeed, identifies the latter as a motif, but it's a device I found slightly over-used.  I never tired, on the other hand, of the striking a cappella singing, more of a chant than a tune.  To me, it evoked a sense of religious devotion: a psalm sung... to what?  To love?  To the family?  To life itself?

To be honest, I'm not quite sure.  Nor did I really grasp the darkest of the play's many images (it packs an awful lot into its 30 short minutes).  There's an echo of the notorious murder of Kitty Genovese, as the teenage girl sees a half-unknown horror through her window - yet does nothing to intervene. In one of the few pieces of simple monologue, she expresses her turmoil and lasting shame; it was a fascinating moment, but it quickly passed, never to be mentioned again.

Or perhaps it was referenced again; with so much evoked rather than explained, it's difficult to be sure.  Ultimately, Number 52 left me slightly unfulfilled, and frustrated that I couldn't penetrate more of the mysteries of its plot.  But there's no mistaking the potential of this highly distinctive performance style - and I'm looking forward to seeing how this young company evolves in time for next year's Fringe.

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