Fringe Theatre reviews:

The Whip Hand

Traverse Theatre

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four stars

Cosmic Scallies

Northern Stage @ Summerhall

three stars

Jess and Joe Forever

Traverse Theatre

four stars

Neil Cooper

FIRST world problems abound in The Whip Hand, Douglas Maxwell's new play, a co-production between the Traverse and Birmingham Rep in association with the National Theatre of Scotland. It opens in Lorenzo and Arlene's swish living room, where Arlene's ex Dougie has just turned fifty, and has a big announcement to make. Arlene and Dougie's daughter Molly is about to go to university, while Dougie's sister's son Aaron is equally smart, but appears to have mis-spent his youth in the pub with Dougie. While Louise Ludgate's blousy Arlene and Richard Conlon's artsy flibbertigibbet Lorenzo have embraced the ghastly pseudo-hipster posturing of craft ale culture, Jonathan Watson's heroically unreconstructed Dougie sticks strictly to old-school tinnies.

In Tessa Walker's production, what starts out as sit-com style awkwardness awash with wicked one-liners erupts into an explosive treatise on class, racial prejudice, social aspirations, acquired familial guilt and some of the pretensions and hypocrisy that go with them. While all over Edinburgh is experimention with theatrical forms, it's a bit of a shock to see such a piece of domestic naturalism. Skim beneath the play's surface, however, and the extremes it plugs into behind closed and well respected doors is a provocative assault on liberal mores.

Runs until August 27.

DENT and Shaun grew up in together in Skelmersdale, the urban new town somewhere between Wigan and Liverpool. Inseparable when they were kids, they are unexpectedly thrown together for the first time since Dent went off to university after she calls out for a handyman. Things have changed, however, and Dent is in need of medication to help ward off a debilitating disease. What emerges in Jackie Hagan's debut play, Cosmic Scallies, is a small town yarn of thwarted ambition, shared history and reconciliation told with a wicked back-street wit.

Amit Sharma's production for Graeae Theatre Company and Royal Exchange Manchester taps into Hagan's Shameless-sired council estate wit with a rough and ready swagger carried by Rachel Denning as Dent (so nicknamed after Countdown's Susie Dent after being caught in possession of a book) and Reuben Johnson as Shaun. Out of this comes a far more serious exposition of a marginalised part of this country's population. This good-natured yarn on the essentials of co-dependence and community looks like a TV show in waiting.

Runs until August 26.

AT FIRST glance, Zoe Cooper's bittersweet teenage romance, Jess and Joe Forever, looks for all the world like a charming but throwaway coming-of-ge story. In a Norfolk village where everybody knows your business, local lad Joe and holiday home posh girl Jess catch each other's eye after she's caught spying on him and his mates swimming in a part of the river so small it doesn't even have a name. They are nine. Over the next four summers we watch their awkward relationship blossom as childhood turns to the growing pains of adolescence. Like the river, however, other things can't be named, but only hinted at darkly by the local busybodies who get to set the agenda.

All this is told by Jess and Joe themselves as they role-play their own recent history as if doing a high school show and tell. As the pair mess with retro cassette players and microphones, this makes for a lovely conceit in Derek Bond's production for the Farnham Maltings in association with the Orange Tree Theatre. Nicola Coughlan and Rhys Isaac-Jones capture that curious but self-protective air of clumsy enthusiasm and over-earnestness of the would-be couple. It is the unspoken you-and-me-against-the-world conspiracy of their relationship that proves so infectious in the play's heady mix of innocence and wisdom beyond their years.

Runs until August 27.