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Exit Stage Left
Published on Tuesday, 14 August 2012
4

4 stars

Greenside (venue website)
Theatre
3-4, 6-11, 13-18 Aug, 5:20pm-6:45pm
Reviewed by Will Howard

 Recommended for age 12+ only.
 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.

Ho-boy. After having a whale of a time watching stand ups, sketch shows, improv shows and god-knows-what shows, I now come to that other tent-pole of the Edinburgh Fringe: deadly serious drama about the worst of humanity, and how it will always succeed. Exit Stage Left is quite proudly one of those plays, a twisting, turning, jet-black little play about fame and truth, and what happens when one comes into conflict with another.

Taking place during the apocalyptic final rehearsal stages of a play that marks the comeback of a famously reclusive director, Exit Stage Left is unique for a number of reasons. First and foremost is the fact that it pulls an enormous fast one on the whole audience, one which spans the length of the entire play. I won’t spoil what it is, but depending on your opinion you’ll leave either feeling cheated or, if you appreciate cleverness even when it comes at your expense, marvelling at how they did it.

Make no mistake; this is a heavy, refreshingly unpredictable production. One of its true strong points is that a main theme doesn’t fully emerge until, quite literally, the final minutes of the closing scene – but when you look back over the whole thing, you realise it makes perfect sense. That flourish in particular is a stroke of genius. But it also highlights that this play takes a while to get going and, at an hour and fifty minutes, has a fairly long running time; stay with it while it builds and you won’t regret it, but from time to time that is gets rather difficult to do so.

The production does also seem to take itself slightly too seriously, and some of the roles would be too complex and difficult for the majority of professional actors – let alone students. For the most part, however, the performances are spot on. Highlights include Greg, the troubled yet insufferable director, and Olivia, who is the first person I’ve seen perform a screaming, shouting breakdown on stage and not make it seem cheesy. The portrayal of Stu the assistant director is the only real issue I have with the characters. I must stress this is no fault of the actor, who has a natural sense of comic timing and would be funny on his own merits; Stu just seems out of place in a show that majors on dark humour and quick wit, rather than broadly drawn comedy. 

The lead roles include famous soap actress Libby Fowler and her children’s TV presenter boyfriend Freddie, who are cast as the principal characters in Thompson’s play-within-a-play and are repeatedly trashed by the press in the weeks leading up to it. Both are utterly believable in the roles, Freddie being played as a cocky twit with no idea what he’s getting into. Fowler is excellent as a soap starlet with more to prove than she thinks she can handle – though her role does include a hurried about-turn in character, which makes sense at the time but doesn’t have quite enough foreshadowing to properly work in the context of the whole play.

In all though, this is fantastic. It’s unbelievably ambitious and while some parts don’t quite hit the mark, everything that truly matters does. It’s easy to recommend, for anyone who craves something dark and more than a little cerebral at their Fringe. For full effect, see it on the same day as one of the multitudes of student plays about death and depression – and you’ll see just how different it is from ninety per cent of the rest of the drama on this year’s Fringe. Just make sure you have a stiff drink afterwards, if you’re that way inclined.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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