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Home arrow Archive: Earlier Fringes arrow Archive: Edinburgh 2011 arrow The Beta Males: The Train Job
The Beta Males: The Train Job
Published on Saturday, 06 August 2011

5 stars

Pleasance Dome (venue website)
3-15, 17-29 Aug, 4:20pm-5:20pm
Reviewed by Craig Thomson

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

The Beta Males have escaped last year’s Bunker, and are steaming ahead of the competition in their follow-up effort, The Train Job – a comedy-thriller sketch show that will leave you electrified.


While the jokes are good and the sketches peppy, what particularly wows me about The Beta Males is their unity of vision.  Even a casual glance at the Fringe listings suggests that sketch groups (especially those comprising four sweaty young guys) are a dime a dozen.  The Beta Males’ extra offer is cohesiveness; not just a narrative thread, welcome as that is, but a coherent, fully-realised, crazy world in which they ground the action.

And what a world we find in The Train Job!  Cuckolded cops and rapscallion robbers, secret cabals cloistered in French toilets, all linked by the unlikeliest of stars – former Secretary of State for Transport, the Right Honourable Stephen Byers.  Twisted?  Maybe.  Warped?  Sure.  Out-there?  Yes, certainly, and that's just the imagined Mr Byers.  Recruited by HM Government to infiltrate the maiden voyage of a gleaming new mega-train, we join Byers as he travels from Kings Cross to Waverley in just under an hour.

The group borrow liberally from every train-related concept you can think of – from boxcar-riding hoboes to furtive lovers bidding fond farewells – via warning signs about ticket collectors, and Peterborough.  Despite the variety, the show retains a strong focus, and it’s almost cinematic in the way it draws us inexorably onwards.  At the last, it derails into a glorious denouement of plot-point resolution and butt-shaking tunes.

It’s the same device that got us out of The Bunker, but that’s no complaint at all; why fix what ain't broke, and certainly why tinker with a madcap means of escape that worked so brilliantly last time round.  The performance I saw was strictly speaking a preview, and the cast made some intermittent and minor flubs, but were otherwise well in command of their briefs.  I also missed some of the cruel poignancy of The Bunker; the tragi-comedy here is played broader.

But you'll easily forget about those missing “aww” moments: you'll be too busy laughing.  So, get your pistons pumping and have your tickets ready for inspection as you climb aboard this steel tube of satisfaction.  The entire experience is an unalloyed joy.  Absolutely first class.

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