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Edinburgh Festival 99 Tuesday, 17 August, 1999, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Painful performances
Patrice Naimbana: The Man Who Committed Thought
(Fringe: Observer Assembly, till 30 August)

Marcus Brigstocke: Help Yourself
(Fringe: Gilded Balloon Theatre, till 30 August)

All the trouble in the world is a tough subject for a comedy show. In Help Yourself, Marcus Brigstocke makes it still harder on himself by telling the audience they are to blame.

Edinburgh Festival 1999
The award-winning stand-up comedian has taken a departure from his normal routine and is offering audiences at the Guilded Balloon Theatre a one-man show comprising 11 characters and more than 50 cassette home recovery kits for nervous depression brought about by guilt.

Brigstocke is ridden with what he calls white, heterosexual, middle class, Anglo-Saxon guilt. On stage, he drags up a member of the audience and makes him repeat a statement pleading guilty to responsibility for everything.

Marcus Brigstocke: Voyage into self-help
The audience, by now an involuntary therapy group, is then persuaded to forgive. "Come and see me and feel better about yourself," Brigstocke promises.

He says the show stems for his own angst when he thinks about slavery, colonialism and economic apartheid. "I suffer from an appropriate amount of guilt - absolute and utter shame," he says. "In the PC '90s this group of people I belong to are responsible for all oppression. We did it.

"I'm not trying to break any massive new boundaries with it, but you get people who may not have considered everything is their fault. It's interesting to see people's faces and it's a great relief when people turn round and say, that's ok we forgive you."

Brigstocke says he tried to tackle the subject in his normal stage material, but found it too heavy for a stand-up audience. He developed Help Yourself because he felt compelled to return to it.

"The show is based on my own experience," he says. "I've seen a lot of quacks, psychiatrists, the rest of it - who've recommended drugs, treatments, electric shock therapy and the rest of it - I want to share some of those beautiful experiences.

"I wouldn't say there is an absolute positive conclusion to the show, but there is a finale."

Patrice Naimbana: The Man Who Committed Thought

A performance Brigstocke must see while he is at the festival is The Man Who Committed Thought, which is on at the Assembly Rooms. Another one-man show, it stars Royal Shakespeare Company actor Patrice Naimbana who explores a coup in a former British colony in Africa through experiences of the story's central characters.

Through the range of voices, he conveys the tale of a peasant farmer being forced off his land by multinational companies, who turns for help to an Oxford-educated African lawyer, who is in turn tormented by lust and fear of the corrupt dictator of the country.

Patrice Naimbana: Serving up food for thought
In the course of an hour and a half, Naimbana switches back and forth amongst the characters with extraordinary fluency. As the president, he drawls and barks orders with the absolute confidence of a despot. Yet when he plays the bullied farmer, he captures the fear of authority and an inability to comprehend the significance of events in his eyes.

As food for thought, the play offers a five-course meal. Alone on stage with few props, Naimbana summons vivid images of teenage soldiers taking cocaine and toting guns, while offering a provoking analysis of international debt and the industry of Third World aid.

When the lawyer briefly takes over the country after the dictator has fled, he clashes with white interests represented by a former head of South Africa's security services after he expels all foreigners and promises to pay off the nation's debt. The lawyer is dragged off to face trial during which he describes events to the jury and audience as "all the oppression under the sun".

Everyone is complicit in the play's presentation. Naimbana is most terrifying as the rebel leader Bad Boy, who greets injustice with inhumanity, but no character escapes blameless. The play ends with Bad Boy installed as the new president and Tony Blair and Bill Clinton expressing the forlorn hope he can lead the country to a peaceful future.

The Man Who Committed Thought is essential viewing for anyone who is troubled by its themes or simply enjoys watching a singularly powerful stage performance. It might not change the world, but where is the harm in trying?

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