The Untapped Award winners for 2019 all perform at the Underbelly Cowgate this year. Are they as impactful as their predecessors? Daniel Perks finds out:

In 2018, three exceptional companies were awarded the Untapped Award, presented in conjunction with the Underbelly and New Diorama Theatre. They presented work at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2018 and

it. was. incredible

  • dressed by ThisEgg
  • It’s True, It’s True, It’s True by Breach Theatre
  • Queens of Sheba by Nouveau Riche

This year, three new companies follow in their footsteps, the Untapped Award winners 2019. Can they match up?

Untapped Winner – Art Heist

Art Heist Untapped Underbelly Cowgate
Poltergeist Theatre’s Art Heist

Hypothetically, trying to steal an invaluable painting would be a thrill. Glamorised in films, the thrill of being caught provides the ultimate adrenaline rush. So, it’s time to begin the imaginary practice heist.

“Are you ready”? asks Alice Boyd.

The performers nod. Will Spence seeks notoriety; Serena Yagoub is a professional aiming to get out of the business; Rosa Garland has fallen in love with the painting. These are their Art Heist characters, inspirations, motivations. The meta-deconstruction makes for a pleasant, relatable and affable watch.

And Art Heist continues from there, using technology and audience members to represent obstacles that must be circumvented, overcome, stealthily avoided. It’s an inclusive, victimless crime – fun without the feeling of risk. Boyd is the gamemaster, dictating proceedings and slowly piecing together the seemingly disparate pieces of this puzzle. Movement is the power in Jack Bradfield’s direction, clever and insightful blocking that utilises the stage and keeps the audience intrigued.

Because Art Heist is a fun concept, a cool execution. But it lacks depth, until the end when final monologues attempt to wrap everything together. They add a confusing sheen onto what is a light-hearted show.

★★★☆☆

Untapped Winner – CONSPIRACY

Conspiracy Untapped Underbelly Cowgate
Barrel Organ’s Conspiracy

There’s a photograph. There’s something wrong with it. Or is there?

Rose Wardlaw, Azan Ahmed and Shannon Hayes are all CONSPIRACY theorists, unmasking the deception behind the inconsistencies. Or are they?

They agree, argue and postulate. They think about the Nazis, about Elvis, about space and the Mafia and Princess Diana. Or do they?

CONSPIRACY is a fantastic piece of text by Jack Perkins, a show that epitomises fake news and fantasy. And the three performers lap it up, seeing deception and deceit and mystery in every detail. It brings them together as a community, unpicking and unravelling and generating a natural, humanistic rapport. As they interrupt each other, stop and start and throw around ideas, Dan Hutton’s naturalistic direction turns the audience into conspiracy voyeurs – peering into each character’s head to see how the cogs are turning.

It’s most transparent in Wardlaw’s performance, an incredible series of layers and micro-reactions, the tiny irritations evidently grating at her very essence. But as Wardlaw tantrums, so Ahmed and Hayes rise in their energy, excitement and genuine glee at solving the unsolvable.

Ockham’s Razor is not in the CONSPIRACY vocabulary, and the play is stronger for it. The most complex of webs are weaved, with the destination so prized that the route to get there is overlooked. Perkins’ characters are so obsessed with the “truth” that they completely ignore the facts.

And it ends in a stunned silence, a revelation that the only winners in all this smoke and mirrors are the fake news generators themselves. The credits roll, they have found their answer. Or have they?

★★★★☆

Untapped Winner – Tokyo Rose

Tokyo Rose Untapped Underbelly Cowgate
Burnt Lemon Theatre’s Tokyo Rose

Tokyo Rose is frustratingly close to being a spellbinding musical, powerful and poignant and perfectly structured.

But to fit this story into an hour is just. too. tricky.

Because in order to do so, writers Maryhee Yuan and Cara Baldwin must skip through some key events. The timeline is episodic, rushed in parts in order to ensure that salient points are made. The end of the war is reduced to mere moments, the devastating events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki all but cut so that Iva Toguri (Maya Britto) and her personal narrative are given the requisite focus.

It’s absolutely the right decision, but it’s a shame that the limiting factor to the show is its running time. Tokyo Rose has no room to breathe.

The actors are spectacular vocalists. Britto doesn’t get enough airtime for her capability, and the two Tokyo Roses (Lucy Park and Yuki Sutton) tire by the end, such is the strain of singing their parts day after day. But Park’s alto has power and range, while Sutton’s control is astonishing. All five performers more than hold their own, but when it comes to the vocals, this is the Sutton show through and through.

Tokyo Rose is also the perfect piece of herstory – an American caught in Japan when war breaks out because she was looking after an ailing aunt. Forced to renounce her American citizenship or be considered a threat to Japanese security, Toguri becomes one of the Tokyo Rose announcers – English-speaking radio broadcasters speaking Japanese propaganda. But Toguri secretly plays a double agent, hiding messages for the Allied troops within her announcements.

After the war ends, Toguri attempts to return to her home country, only to be convicted of treason. And it’s here where Hannah Benson’s direction comes into its own – such a rigged court room all but goads the audience into standing up and shouting out in support at such an unjust justice system. Britto’s final plea is heart-breaking and empowering in a single breath.

Freedom, equality, a better tomorrow. This is not the current America, or indeed the current UK. Tokyo Rose wishes to understand the past and hopefully avoid future repetition. It’s so close to being a powerhouse of a show in all respects.

★★★★☆

The three Untapped Award Winners 2019 are playing at Underbelly Cowgate until 25 August 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the festival website.