Friday, August 10, 2007

Lucid Dreams for Higher Living

You aren't doing the Fringe properly unless you go to see at least some random experimental fringe theatre. So, Lucid Dreams for Higher Living is an hour-long play running in a late afternoon slot in one of the more obscure corners of the Underbelly.

The demand for performance space during the Fringe means that pretty much every halfway usable room is commandeered by somebody or other. This year's Fringe programme lists 380 separate venues. The Underbelly is actually one of the small band of super-venues that have dominated the Fringe in recent years, alongside the Pleasance, the Assembly Rooms and the Gilded Balloon (which still clings to that name despite the minor technicality that the original building burnt down in the fire a few years back). But while the other three colonise rooms that are at least used for something the rest of the year - for example, the Pleasance is actually the Edinburgh University societies' centre - the Underbelly occupies a network of cavernous abandoned rooms under the city centre.

I have no idea who they belong to or why nobody else uses them. But the place is clearly a wreck that gets fitted out with electricity for one month of the year and somehow scrapes past its health and safety inspection. They've now expanded to another venue a couple of blocks to the west, but they seem to have kept to the same policy of occupying unlikely spaces buried beneath the city. When the signs to theatre 2 politely warn you to watch out for dripping water, this is not an indication that there's a plumbing problem which they're planning to fix. It's just a statement of the way things are.

In these unlikely rooms, you will find obscure fringe theatre productions, and stand-up comedians hoping to get a TV show.

Lucid Dreams for Higher Living is, I suppose, technically a one-man show. It consists of a man watching a self-help DVD and attempting to follow its somewhat implausible-sounding advice to the afflicted. The whole show is essentially a dialogue between him and the pre-recorded, professionally banal Helen Bradbury. Naturally, as a mass-market product, her advice is decidedly one-size-fits-all. And some of it is just plain ludicrous. All of which leads the show to brandish the Dramatic Irony card with full force as she ends up talking him into completely the wrong result.

It's a good idea, and the performances are strong, but I'm not sure it quite works in this format. They've opted to play it in real time, and I think that's where they slipped up. An hour of watching a DVD doesn't seem like enough to get Anthony from point A to point B; it would have worked better as a series of scenes from a longer course of "therapy." As it is, I don't quite buy it. It feels a little too contrived.

But it holds together as a black comedy, and there's a good idea in there. Worth a look if you're at a loose end.