Sunday, August 26, 2007

"Failed States" - Edinburgh Fringe 2007

"An innocent man finds himself trapped in a nightmare world, as laws designed to protect against the threat of terror wreak havoc." So far, so Fringe... and once you add in the fact that this is a musical, alarms bells should be ringing. Even more so when this is all in earnest seriousness rather than knowingly tongue in cheek. Had it not been for the show neatly filling a gap in our schedule I'd have been nowhere near "Failed States" but incredibly it turned out to be one of the highlights of my Fringe.

From the opening scene where "God Save the Queen" is cleverly combined with "The Star Spangled Banner" it's clear this is an intelligent and stylish production with a cast capable of pulling off the herculean task of making a musical about terror laws entertaining.

Set over the course of July 2005 the show focuses on Joseph who has found himself with financial links to terror suspects and under intense interrogation by the authorities. But we also see the effect this has on his family and wider circle, how attitudes towards him are affected by the 7/7 bombings in London. We are also asked to consider to what extent we are willing to have our rights and freedoms eroded in the nameof security. But while the show is up front about its political views, it doesn't shirk from giving dissenting views a voice.

There may not be any outstanding musical numbers here, but they all serve the story well and the "Tube" number is particularly effective. The performances are excellent all round. Joanna Heap as Anya gives a particularly strong vocal performance, while Guy Lewis as Joseph gives a real insight into his anguish and frustration. Marcus Ellard and Steve McNeil give Joseph's tormentors a surprising level of depth, and Fanos Xenofos as Anya's father Massoud makes his own reactions to Joseph's situation believable. The conceit of having Joseph's deteriorating mental state portrayed on stage by Andrew Mathys' Franz works far better than it has any right to.

Andrew Taylor's script is witty and subtle, making it's points without bludgeoning the audience with them. Although there is a lot of humour here it isn't at the expense of dramatic tension and there is one truly edge of your seat moment.

1215 Productions have put together a great piece of theatre, and although it has already been performed in London, I hope it can find a continuing life beyond the Fringe - it deserves to, and audiences deserve a chance to see it.

Failed States runs at the Pleasance Dome until 27th August at 15:30.