”Speed Dial” at Pleasance Dome – Edinburgh Fringe review

© Harry Plowden

I have two favourite episodes of the hit US sitcom series Community. One of them is a conspiracy theory-laden thriller involving higher education, a night school (that may or may not exist), a shifty dean, unexpected phone calls, cryptic clues and double-crossings. The second is similar, though more of a crime procedural featuring funny skits about the crooked press, a hooded phantom assailant stalking campus and a student/teacher relationship that’s called into disrepute. To say that Speed Dial reminds me of those episodes is very much a compliment, and physical theatre company Spies Like Us have concocted what will surely end up as a fan favourite of the Fringe.

Blending the sort of physical theatre choreography you’d find in a Gecko show, alongside some neat emotional beats and primary and secondary protagonists you’d be sore-pressed not to root for, the master-storytelling group of five bounce through a larger-than-life coterie of characters on campus in a slick crime caper.

The premise is a bit strange – exam week at the university is approaching, and an English professor (his character name is simply “Prof”) has to get some top-notch marks to keep his university afloat. Disaster strikes when, at the last second, his Dean decides to change the course text – to a new book that happened to be written by his estranged wife.

The next twist? His daughter, who he’s been avoiding for two years, has gone missing, and it’s up to this flappable academic to crack the various clues given to him via anonymous phone calls, find his daughter and solve the case. Cut to crossword codes, maze chases, spooky encounters and clock-tower tussles – if university-based comedy thriller is your kink, this is the show for you.

The strong company acquit themselves with panache, bringing believability and charm to what can at times feel like ludicrousness. Despite being, naturally, an incredibly convoluted plot, you never lose track of who’s who and what’s at stake. What’s more, the show manages to wrap everything up with a genuine beat of emotional catharsis, as one character finally puts everything on the line, and makes a big call.