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The Titanic Orchestra (Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh)

John Hannah returns to the stage in Hristo Boytchev's play

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
John Hannah stars in The Titanic Orchestra

Houdini makes a second furtive appearance on the Fringe: after Alan Cox in Impossible at the Pleasance, it's John Hannah's turn as a mysterious interloper in a bunch of drunks on an isolated Bulgarian railway station.

The train never comes, they've missed the boat, the plane's flown by. The only transport in these guys' lives is one of despair, with short-lived delight in a swig from the vodka bottle.

It's a brave, even foolhardy, choice of play for one of Scotland's best-loved actors to choose on his return to the stage. And he's very good indeed, funny and agile, and well projected in the large Pleasance One hall.

Good to see, too, one of Bulgaria's leading playwrights, Hristo Boytchev, represented here, in a smart, idiomatic translation by Steve King. But something's gone wrong to make the play come across as, well, ever so slightly pretentious: this whole world is the Titanic, and we're only here for the ride...the only escape is illusion...it's not Beckett, is it?

And when someone shouts, "Stop the train, I want to get off," you yearn for a blast of Anthony Newley. Instead, the lost souls blunder on, but only around the station and into each other, deluded into thinking they can do anything if they've had enough to drink. But supplies are draining away, along with the audience's patience.

The actors do their best to keep cheerful - well, dismal - in the circumstances. The other poor sods are played by Stuart Crowther, Heidi Nieimi from Finland, Jonathan Rhodes and Ivan Barnev from Bulgaria, who presumably knows what we should make of these characters but can't quite.

The Titanic Orchestra runs at the Pleasance Courtyard until 31 August

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