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Tuesday, 20 August, 2002, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
Hamlet gets Middle Eastern makeover
Al-Hamlet Summit
The family feud take place in a Middle Eastern summit
Shakespeare meets the Middle East in an imaginative and topical remake of Hamlet by the Anglo-Kuwaiti director Sulayman Al-Bassam.

The Al-Hamlet Summit, set in a Middle Eastern country riven with war and corruption, deservedly won a Fringe First Award last week.

Although the names are familiar from the Shakespearean version, the setting is decidedly 21st Century.

Hamlet, the aggrieved son of the deceased king who has just been succeeded by his westernised despot of a brother, Claudius, descends to bitterness and religious extremism in his attempt to gain the crown.

Unnerving

The family feud is played out against the backdrop of a country wracked by a devastating war as well as domestic insurrection.

Al-Bassam's play is a brave attempt to bring one of Shakespeare's darkest and most unnerving plays into a modern context.

Extracts of Shakespearean verse are interspersed with chilling background images of burning oil fields, and whether by accident or design, its Middle Eastern setting makes it one of the most topical plays on this year's Fringe circuit.

The Al-Hamlet Summit is playing at the Pleasance Dome until 26 August


Bush hit by laser-guided stand-up

Rich Hall and Mike Wilmot don't much like George W Bush. The pretzel-munching president seems to reduce an otherwise affable comic to paroxysms of nightly frustration.

But Hall and Wilmot's target is really America, as is shown at the start by a play of Toby Keith's American chart-topping ditty Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).

Keith's country and western drivel is of such mind-bending crassness that some audience members momentarily believe it is a spoof recorded by Hall.

US President George W Bush
Hall and Wilmot lampoon Bush's run-in with a pretzel
That is until Hall reveals that the non-globetrotting Bush is a fan.

Hall groans: "He's left the country six times - twice to go to Mexico for a taco."

And Hall's series of diagrams on the president's infamous run-in with a pretzel really are gut wrenchingly-funny.

Wilmot is more character player than conventional comic, mostly taking on the role of a Stetson-wearing ambassador to Scotland.

Perhaps Bush is too broad a target. Everybody cringed at his obsession with the word "folks" in the aftermath of 11 September, so a routine on it seems unnecessary.

But what gets Rich out of trouble every time is his peerless ability to deliver a gag. The festival audiences are a perfect foil and he just seems to get better and better.

Rich Hall and Mike Wilmot's Pretzel Logic is at the Assembly Rooms until 26 August


Stars shine bright in 9/11 play

It's easy to sneer about Hollywood stars treading the boards in Edinburgh or London's West End and getting an easy ride because of their celebrity status.

But Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins did more than enough at the British première of The Guys to have a house full of seasoned theatre fans eating out of their hands.

Robbins is revelatory as a fire captain who has lost eight men in the Twin Towers. For an actor who has sometimes been accused of acting with his head rather than his heart, he hits all the right emotional notes.

His blue collar, straight-down-the-line, Irish Catholic firefighter finds himself in unfamiliar territory when he has to compose eulogies for four of his men.

Susan Sarandon
Sarandon plays a woman badly affected by the attacks
As an editor with a long history of covering violence in South America, Sarandon plays a woman badly affected by the attacks, but unsure of her role in the aftermath.

Her performance is strong, although some of her dialogue occasionally becomes cloying.

The simple staging heightens the impact of the reading and the humour in the play is carried off nicely by both actors.

And running under the work is the sadness that it is only in death that we can share the secrets, hidden talents and unplumbed depths of the firefighters.

The Guys is at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre until Friday


Berkoff's Requiem still needs work

A handful of images from 11 September seem to have been preying on Steven Berkoff's mind.

His Requiem for Ground Zero is full of "silver birds" flying into the Twin Towers and it's hard to suppress a yawn when he refers to the buildings as "steel phalluses".

This poetic monologue is a work of two threads. When describing the more oblique side of 11 September, Berkoff can be brilliant.

Steven Berkoff
Berkoff: Frenetic delivery
And his hammed-up Dubya and Tony Blair, as well as his sketch of New York's immigrants, raise ripples of laughter.

But when he starts talking about "flying bodies" and trudging through all the gory detail, the work becomes not tasteless, but unnecessary and overblown.

Art can illuminate great tragedies - like World War I - which have been shrouded in confusion and misinformation, but it must be more selective in the modern era.

Berkoff's frenetic, almost manic, delivery will earn him more standing ovations, but this "work-in-progress" should shed some of its excesses.

Steven Berkoff's Requiem for Ground Zero is at the Assembly Rooms until 26 August


Coverage of the 2002 Edinburgh Festival from BBC News Online

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