25th August 2000 at 01:00
It's a sign of old age of course. Time was I'd think nothing of fitting in five shows a day on the Edinburgh Fringe. This year my average was 3.5, ending with a particularly good 0.5 just as I made for the airport. Shrewsbury School's The Lost Domain is an energetic, tuneful musical by teachers John Moore (music), Peter Fanning and Alex Went (book and lyrics) based on Alain-Fournier's book Le Grand Meaulnes. Romance, school, young men going to war - the themes could not be more suitable for the 40-plus cast made up of Salopians and girls from Shropshire schools - and they did them full justice. There are some touching individual performances, but the real strength is in the ensemble work - terrific, professional standard singing and dancing, in the 19th- century school room and the mysterious mansion. Komedia@Southside

The Newbury Youth Theatre packed the tiny Quaker Meeting House with The Peace Children, a musical based on the true story of the Colombian village children who were nominated for a Nobel peace prize (TES Friday, October 15, 1999). Sincerity and sweet voices movingly carried the tough subject matter: death on the streets, threats from drug barons, families scratching a living in fear. There are two post-Edinburgh performances at the Corn Exchange, Newbury, on August 29 and 30. Information: 01635 582666.

According to the programme, the director of Newbury Youth Theatre, Robin Strapp, holds the record for seeing the most Fringe shows in 24 hours - number unspecified. Of course, some shows are pretty short. Sometimes there's not much else to recommend them. Classics come in for swingeing cuts; I didn't see Absolute Banana Theatre Company's Hedda Gabler (1 hour 40 minutes) or Macbeth in Japanese (1 hour 30 minutes) or a half-hour version of Pericles, but I did see a 10-minute Hamlet. On a bus. For some reason that passed me by, he was dressed as a pantomime cow, udders dangling in time to the iambic pentameters. The intimate scene in Gertrude's chamber took place over a mobile phone as mum was on the lower deck. We travelled the streets of Edinburgh with the curtains drawn in a sort of Shakespeare nightmare. Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth got similar treatment. The star-crossed lovers' story was quite clear, but the other two plots must have remained a mystery to anyone not familiar with them. We did, admittedly, get quite a few of Shakespeare's words.

The Buzz Bus leaves from the Pleasance. Earlier the same day I'd been serenaded on the same bus by a six-foot killer goldfish. Well, it can happen. This was in a half-hour show for three to seven-year-olds involving actors tearing up and down the stairs, swapping accents and characters in All Aboard the Buzz Bus.

Back to "issues" theatre. Like Newbury Youth Theatre, The National Student Theatre Company addresses a difficult subject in The Lion, The Witch and a Bag of Chips. Romance in a home for the mentally ill explored by relatively inexperienced actors seems like a recipe for embarrassment, but these young actors hve found a simplicity and sincerity which suggest they have researched the conditions they represent. Sexual exploration takes place in a wardrobe which is also the source of fantasy sequences including an Elvis look-alike. This show is both touching and humorous. It's also the only one to boast a real TCP smell. Appropriately, it was at Bedlam Theatre. For information about NSTC: 01723 501106

Learning to Love the Grey is Y Touring's examination of the moral, social and emotional questions involved in cloning. This company associated with the Central YMCA, has something of a reputation for facing difficult questions head on. There's a genuine debate in this piece and, if the love interest is a bit sentimental, Jonathan Hall's script keeps the personal and philosophical bubbling together satisfactorily. At the Pleasance. Y Touring: 020 7272 5755

There's no debate at all in New Boy, based on William Sutcliffe's novel about teenage sexual confusion. Unless you count nerdy sixth-former Mark's internal muddle about the exact nature of his attraction to gorgeous new boy Barry. Barry has no trouble getting all kinds of experience, including some with his New Agey French teacher. This show is very rude and very, very funny. It also rings true. And watch out for Neil Henry (Mark) - a comic star. Pleasance.

There's new writing on show at the Traverse in Abi Morgan's play for Paines Plough, Splendour. Four women wait for news as an east European dictatorship falls. The script plays with ideas of perception, hypocrisy and manipulation as sections are re-run uncovering the thoughts behind the characters' words. The production will tour after Edinburgh. For information: 020 7240 4533.

Bock amp; Vincenzi present innovative dance for the nursery age group in Breathtaking, a dreamy bed-time piece performed by five dancers in white night-shirts. It seems a bit out of place in the big top in Princes Street Gardens with a small audience of rather bemused toddlers. Older dance fans might be more appreciative, but everyone loves the simple idea of strapping a tin cup on your head, filling it with glitter - and nodding.

More information about the Edinburgh Festivals: and; Fringe tickets: 0131 226 5257.

Back in London, there's a real curiosity on show in Richard Brome's Antipodes at Shakespeare's Globe. Written in 1638 and hardly performed in 350 years, it tells the story of mad Peregrine, a would-be traveller whose melancholy is cured when he is apparently transported to the Antipodes. Hughball, a prototype psychiatrist, prescribes that Lord Letoy's servants mount a strange (and hilarious) show for him. At the same time his father, Joyless, is cured of jealousy and his wife Martha at last learns how babies are made. Judiciously cut by American director Gerald Freedman this becomes a rollicking piece, lacking Ben Jonson's sharp satirical wit, but providing a new insight into Jacobean comedy. Tickets: 020 7401 9919

Heather Neill

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