The shocking desperation and vibrant life of some urban areas of South Africa was brought to the stage of the Edinburgh Festival in Township Stories.
The show comes to Birmingham in late September. Sixteen performers weave together tales of birth, death and love against the background of a police hunt for a serial killer.
Bleak family discussions are broken by sudden violence that is given a cinematic noir quality. The story is sometimes shown through brilliantly choreographed scenes involving the full cast. There are disturbing moments in this play which will remain with the audience long after they have left the theatre.
Another thriller coming to Birmingham after its Edinburgh premier is the stylish, fast-paced, American comedy Gizmo Love. This strange satire on the film industry by the fine writer John Kolvenbach, is reminiscent of the film Barton Fink.
There was a Shakespeare connection to many of this year's West Midlands contributions to the festival. Stratford Year Out Group performed a busy, accessible version of The Tempest.
Mark Grady from Coventry teamed up with Daniel Wright to effortlessly perform 19 characters in their funny play Hamlet the Gloomy Prince.
Opening as a comic lecture on how the presentation of Shakespeare can be made more interesting, they then deliver a clear version of Hamlet mixed with many an "accidental" revelation about the performers' homelives.
Birmingham's Chimeric Productions brought an incredibly entertaining Rosencrantz and Guilden-stern are Dead.
Tom Oakley, as a measured Guildenstern, is reminiscent of a younger Richard Briers. Dan Jennings is a restless, often puzzled Rosencrantz. With fine comic timing this pair draw out the humour in Stoppard's play without missing anything of its tragic implications. The doomed characters who have never had any control over what happens to them, are finally handed Guantanamo suits for their execution.
The Royal Shakespeare Company's creative team has worked for a number of years with Davidson College, North Carolina. This year Davidson students brought to the festival two shows that resulted from this collaboration.
One is a compilation of sections from Shakespeare's plays. These include the actress Kelsey Formost giving one of the finest performances I've seen of Juliet.
Her physical and emotional control of the part and intellectual delivery of the lines was remarkable. The other show was a stylish, modern musical interpretation of Shakespeare's songs and sonnets set in a tube station.
Warwick's Kinspeck Theatre mounted a fast and witty production of Stephen Sondheim's musical revue Putting it Together, in which the relationships of people at a cocktail party are entertainingly explored.
The Youth Movement of the 1960s is conjured up in RP Thea-tre's inventive production of the pop/rock musical Godspell . Although the material is dramatically slight, the director Francis Collin strips away the props and keeps the cast moving with a bright energy through sketches and songs that never falter for a second.
The war in Iraq has had a radicalising effect on the festival. The number of plays dealing with it has grown. The most successful at this
year's festival was the National Theatre of Scotland's production of Gregory Burke's Blackwatch, which centres on November 2004 when the regiment was sent to support the US in their siege of Fallujah.
The actor Tom Geoffrey, who this year graduated from the Birmingham School of Acting, gave a strong, thoughtful performance as a radical soldier in The China Vase. This play follows the same group of soldiers
through the First World War, the Second World War and into the recent war in Iraq. The effect is to emphasise the consistent class conflict and brutality that runs through these events.
A group from Birmingham campaigning for the abolition of weapons of mass destruction, mounted a nightly mix of talks from speakers and comedians such as Tony Benn, Bruce Kent, Shazia Mirza and Mark Thomas.
The Fringe evening schedules were dominated by comedy, of which one of the better shows in this period was a Warwick Four Bouys fast and funny production of Neville's Island in which businessmen from the Thames Valley Water Company are marooned on an island. Much of the humour of this serious piece is generated by actor Oli Patterson's fine performance as the cynic Gordon, who is never short of a joke to cover his vulnerability.
The West Midlands continues to make a good contribution to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. n Performance dates: Gizmo Love is at the Door September 19 to 23. Township Stories is at the Drum September 30 to October 1.