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Review: The Last of the Pelican Daughters (Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh)

The Wardrobe Ensemble return to the Edinburgh Fringe with a new piece that sees a family putting itself back together following a loss

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The Last of the Pelican Daughters
(© Benjamin Grant)

There is a moment in The Wardrobe Ensemble's new show, accompanied by an iconic 1970 song that won't be named, that may be the most intensely brilliant three minutes at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. It'd be awful to spoil but, when it happens, you'll know.

Following their hit deconstruction of Blairite Britain in the award-winning Education, Education, Education, the company return to the Fringe with a very different offering – a family drama, mostly set in a single room. The piece follows four sisters – Joy, Storm, Sage and Maya, who reconvene for their deceased mother Rosemary's birthday. Rosemary may be gone but she certainly isn't forgotten and, portrayed by a red dress sported by the various members of the cast, she silently haunts the house, tiptoeing behind scenes.

Each daughter is defined by their individual needs – Storm wants money for the years she spent at home caring for Rosemary, Joy wants a baby, Maya wants to go travelling with her caricature of a boyfriend Jojo, while Sage just wants celebrate Rosemary, the eccentric nonconformist who played by her own rules.

The fleshy, veiny walls of Ruby Spencer Pugh's set (which is full of little tricks you'd never expect at the Fringe) feel like a natural extension of Rosemary's life, and alongside Benjamin Grant's sound design, it makes for an 80-minute show that glides by with ease. The performers are all an amiable bunch, getting solid belly laughs with some great set pieces.

It's a remarkably intimate show, and despite a large cast it all feels like low-stakes fun that places theatrical fun over gritty drama. There are some morbidly surreal sections – the children's grandmother is played by a skeleton in a wheelchair, and a whole passage about buying a baby feels blisteringly out of place. Sage seems to have drawn the short straw with the slightest amount of character development, though Helena Middleton still brings a lot of charm to the role. It's hard not to be seduced by this oddball family drama (especially those three minutes), with its heart firmly in the right place.

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