Tunnels – Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Army at the Fringe

Reviewer: Tom Ralphs

Writer: Oliver Yellop

Director: Colin Ellwood

1968, seven years after the Berlin Wall was erected, Paul and Freddie, two cousins, are attempting to escape from East Germany by digging a tunnel that will take them under the wall and bring them out in the bright sunshine and freedom of the West.

The prize on offer seem to outweigh the risks associated with the endeavour, although with one of the cousins worrying about whether his girlfriend will also make the journey and the other commenting on the sense of community that appears to be an unintended by-product of communist rule, it isn’t as clear cut as it might seem. The motives of at least one of the cousins is also increasingly open to question as the play develops.

By using a narrow raised stage that the cousins make their way across using spades and wooden posts to mark their progress, director Colin Ellwood manages to recreate the claustrophobic atmosphere of the tunnel, in spite of the play being performed on a vast stage area in an equally vast hall. Fergal Mulloy’s sound design compliments their movement and the lighting also gives the feeling of a narrow space several metres underground.

Sadly the script itself, by Oliver Yellop who also plays Freddie, doesn’t really achieve the same high stakes atmosphere until the closing stages when a tunnel collapse and possible betrayal up the ante and make it seem almost inevitable that this will be where the cousins meet their end. Before that, there is a little too much general chat that sounds like it would have led to the decision to dig rather than have occurred halfway through the task. There is not enough of a sense of urgency and the paranoia and desperation associated with the setting is hinted at, but not fully developed.

Where the play goes deeper into the minds of the cousins it mines a rich seam of material, but unfortunately, unlike the tunnel the cousins are digging, the play spends too long on the surface to realise the full potential of the story.

Reviewed on 10 August, running from 6 to 22 August 2021 (not Mondays) | Image: Contributed

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The Scotland team is under the editorship of Lauren Humphreys. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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