Keith McKenna reports from Edinburgh on the West Midlands contribution to this year's Fringe...
The dark, brooding paintings of the great Portuguese painter Paula Rego inspired one of the most memorable contributions from the West Midlands to this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Kindle Theatre's Beastly Beauties, staged in one of the disused underground caverns whicht honeycomb the old part of the city, explores the place of woman in the family and society. The comic opening quickly becomes deeply disturbing in a brilliantly choreographed sequence which can leave both the audience and the performers emotionally drained.
Less satisfying was The Night Shift, written and directed by Mark Morris and commissioned in part by the Warwick Arts Centre.
In a series of moody highly stylised scenes it uncovers the impact of childhood trauma on a young woman. Unfortunately Morris is so concerned to maintain a sense of mystery and movement that he gives us a first half of contrived obscurity and an ending to the play which is crude, simplistic, and unconvincing.
The play is more like a performers' exercise than an attempt to understand people or the world.
This year's advance publicity for the Fringe emphasised that "the War on Terror is a central point of inspiration".
Numerous shows were shaped by concerns about the war or the threat to civil liberties. Among them was the lively and funny production of Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist by former Birmingham University students, in which Michael Piper plays the quick talking persuasive maniac who exposes the way police investigating terrorism, murder an innocent man and then try to cover it up.
Sam Luck the director explained 'that Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and the anti-terror laws had made this play from 30 years ago very relevant."
Look Right Look Left mounted a powerful documentary drama about reactions to July 7 bombings. Yesterday was a weird day is based on a mass of interviews with people in London.
Victims describe the scramble to get out of the bombed trains, the injuries they incurred and the sadness they felt about the events. They make the links to the war on Iraq. One who narrowly missed death says the only anger he felt was at Blair on the TV in the evening.
A wider political context is given to the events by the former MI5 officer David Shayler and the MP George Galloway, both of whom are played impressively by Stephen Eliot Mcdonald, a recent graduate from the Birmingham School of Acting.
There were several musicals from the West Midlands at this year's Fringe. The Year Out Drama Company from Stratford performed the very funny and remarkably well choreographed Nothing Like the Sun.
This uplifting compilation of songs from Sondheim, Bernstein and others wittily questions our assumptions about personal relationships.
A much darker note was struck by former students of Warwick University whose new company Throwaway charts the corruption and death of an American politician in their midnight performance of The Fix. The sinister figure of the crippled and cynical family patriarch Grahame Chandler, played with immense power by Dan Byrne, dominates much of the action.
Peter Pan is the subject of the Birmingham University student musical Neverland, written and composed by Catherine McDonald and Erica Reed. It is technically impressive but lacks soul. Its grand musical style would have lost most children and its lack of ideas and humour tired most adults.
Central to Troika's revival of Pam Gems' 1971 play Piaf are the songs of Edith Piaf which were superbly performed, mostly in French, by Margaret Griffiths who gives us a real sense of the passion and tone of the original. Set mostly in a cabaret club it tells the story of the singer's career and her troubled relationships with men.
One of the most unusual shows at the festival was Of all the people in all the world. Mounted by Stans Cafe as part of the British Council's biennial showcase, it gives a thoughtful, sometimes provocative pattern to world statistics. In a huge room two people in lab coats weigh grains of rice; each grain representing a person.
Across the floor are sheets of white paper, each bearing a typed statistic about the population. Rice is placed on the paper to visually represent that statistic. For instance, the pile for those killed trying to cross the Berlin wall between 1961 and 1989 was smaller than the next pile that represented those killed trying to get into Arizona from Mexico in just one year.
This is a continually evolving exhibit that juxtaposes facts in a way that is often shocking and occasionally funny.
With more than 20 shows at this year's Edinburgh Fringe, the West Midlands continues to make a good contribution to the Festival.
* Kindle Theatre presents Beastly Beauties at the Warwick Words Festival, Lord Leycester Hospital, on October 8, and at the Custard Factory, Birmingham, in October.