sat 18/09/2021

Edinburgh Fringe 2021: Tunnels / Dandelion | reviews, news & interviews

Edinburgh Fringe 2021: Tunnels / Dandelion

Edinburgh Fringe 2021: Tunnels / Dandelion

Two shows shine in a converted army reserve centre amid a depleted festival

Oliver Yellop (left) and Lewis Bruniges in Berlin breakout drama 'Tunnels'

Tunnels Army @ The Fringe ★★

As has already been noted, it’s a funny old Fringe this year: only a fraction of its normal size; with audiences that seem either Covid-wary or disconcertingly enthusiastic; with some venues taking advantage of restriction relaxations to open up to jam-packed houses (and infuriating many who’d booked on the basis of social distancing), and others maintaining Covid measures, with outdoor performing spaces and careful hygiene. In short, it’s a bit of a mess, but hey, isn’t that in the spirit of the Fringe? If anything, the smaller programmes in what are usually dominant venues have allowed some of the smaller spaces their chance to shine.

Step forward Army @ the Fringe, which has taken over the Hepburn House Army Reserve Centre in northern Edinburgh for the past few years, and which has one of the most varied and interesting programmes in 2021. And frankly, with friendly recruits serving beers, guiding movements and cleaning up after you, who wouldn’t feel safe?

Not surprisingly, there’s a slight military flavour to many of its shows. Tunnels is a slow-burn two-hander by Oliver Yellop (who also stars) about two East Berlin cousins digging a tunnel to the West across several long months in 1968. The show’s tense, claustrophobic atmosphere is only enhanced, it has to be said, by the compulsory wearing of facemasks in an increasingly warm performance space.

Tunnels is a little rough round the edges, and could probably do with some tightening up in direction and script to make it properly gripping, but it’s a strong piece of work nonetheless, and one that moves into ever darker areas as the two men’s loyalty and motivations are dissected across their months of monotonous (and possibly futile) endeavour. Yellop and Lewis Bruniges chart the men’s descent from naive enthusiasm to resentment and recriminations persuasively, and the live music from Benji Hooper provides an effective aural backdrop. Best of all is Bruniges’ cynical but highly perceptive explanation of how the East German police state ended up creating the very model citizens it intended, but for all the wrong reasons.

DandelionDandelion Army @ The Fringe ★★

Just down the road from the Reserve Centre, amid the greenery and swings of Claremont Crescent Gardens, Dandelion by Edinburgh company Creative Electric is just as exquisite and fragile as the flower’s blow-away seeds on the show’s poster. Lisa and Dandelion are sisters, separated in age by 14 years. They have little sense of home, though: their army mother gets a new posting every six months, 12 months, 18 months, and takes the family with her. They adapt quickly, learn to make new friends and settle in ever-changing army accommodation, but remain unavoidably aware that whatever roots they put down will be torn up again before long. For 26-year-old Lisa, however, playing parent, playmate and protector to her 12-year-old sister quickly takes its toll, and she begins to imagine a life of her own.

Coming in at around half an hour, Dandelion has the feeling of a work in progress, or at least a work that could easily be expanded into a longer, more developed narrative. Nonetheless, even as it stands it packs a mighty emotional punch. Roz McAndrew and Amelia Tuck (just 12 years old) are remarkably fluid, agile performers, dashing across the green space to their recorded dialogue delivered intimately through headphones. There’s some gentle audience interaction, a bit of promenade, and some effective alternation between recorded voices and the immediacy of live acting, all beautifully crafted and considered. But it’s as if writer Heather Marshall, who also directs, has shown us her exposition, and now leaves us wanting to know what comes next. Dandelion is a charming, graceful, actually very moving little show, but one that also leaves you wanting more.

With friendly recruits serving beers, guiding movements and cleaning up after you, who wouldn’t feel safe?

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