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Tychy only ever reviews shows which play in poky under-the-stairs theatres to audiences of less than twelve people, so what am I doing journeying into the heart of Mordor (the Traverse Theatre)? Well, to put it bluntly, Tychy@ the Fringe wants to break out of its accustomed student circles and into a bigger and more respectable readership. But I find the Traverse disorientating and a little incredible. Queuing to gain entry to Zinnie Harris‘ new play “The Wheel” reminds me of trying to board a Ryanair flight. Once inside the theatre, every seat is taken, and there is a great hunt to find that stray spare seat for the poor devil who has been left standing. More money has been spent on that massive and elaborate stage than on all of the productions which Tychy has reviewed this year put together – it is like a monkey enclosure at the zoo, with ropes and ladders and raised walkways!

It’s a shame, therefore, that this play turns out to be interminable. It starts out well, by which I mean that it begins realistically and with some good dialogue, but this rustic knockabout comedy, which follows the fortunes of some children who have lost their parents in a peasant war, turns into a flimsy postmodern allegory in which the main characters voyage through history, stopping off to view the Holocaust, Vietnam, and thereafter.

One feels sorry for the children, because this play is probably meaningless to them. The nameless “girl” at the centre of the story performs ambiguous miracles for those whom she meets, which one expects is a tiresome metaphor for the hope that has been transmitted throughout history from organised religion. Catherine Walsh plays a hearty peasant who has been unwillingly pressed into looking after these children. She is grand in the comic scenes, but this cup is drained early, and she is left squawking in disarray as those remorseless cycles of history roll on. Confirming my suspicions about the social class who have captured the Traverse, Walsh’s character is essentially that of a plucky au pair, who has been this time defeated by the wheel of history rather than by merely a malfunctioning washing machine. The rest of the cast traipse about like a sinister, zombie version of Dad’s Army.

There is seriously better and a lot cheaper theatre than this at the Fringe. Like Waitrose, the Traverse should be left to the middle class. But I’ll break them one day.

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