Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2023 Theatre Review: Stuntman (Summerhall) ★★★

An exploration of masculinity, violence and physicality-over-emotion, Stuntman is an engaging piece. Rooted in action movies, 80s classics, and drawing on personal stories, performers Sadiq Ali and David Banks impress with their agility and charisma.

David Banks and Sadiq Ali in Stuntman. Photo Credit: Brian Hartley.

A satirical duet where two men wrestle with their relationship to violence, and expectations upon them, Stuntman starts slowly, but builds throughout. Both Banks and Ali are likeable and charming, and the rapport with the audience is strong from the outset. The more heartfelt sections are separated by often ridiculous fight scenes, which always culminate in a dramatic death – instantly recognisable and performed with wonderful physicality and humour.

The personal stories they link bring more introspection and vulnerability to the show. Lying about his age so he can start training in MMA at 15, Banks recounts the tale of his first proper fight at 18. He relates the same tale a few times throughout the piece, with the focus shifting with each repetition, his bravado ebbing away and being replaced by a more truthful account. Ali talks of never being punched, and just wanting to be a dancer. Then he experiences one too many incidents of homophobic abuse, and begins to fantasise about giving in to violence, and where it might lead.

Sadiq Ali and David Banks in Stuntman. Photo Credit: Brian Hartley.

Rachel O’Neill’s set design is smart, but feels it would work better in a larger venue. The performers appear to be curtailed by the space, which is a terrible shame, however the lighting and sound design (Michaella Fee and Richy Carey respectively) give the piece more of the drama that it needs. Directed by Pete Lannon, each of the elements in Stuntman are enjoyable to watch and contribute to the storytelliing, however it does feel somewhat rough around the edges, lacking a sharper focus or building of tension.

Sadiq Ali and David Banks in Stuntman. Photo Credit: Brian Hartley.

The movement sections pack a serious punch, and the relationship between Ali and Banks is compelling. Juxtaposing the anger and exhilaration that can be felt on the brink of a fight with moments of tenderness and vulnerability, Stuntman is making an important statement, although the message could benefit from some clarity.

By Deborah Klayman

Stuntman plays at Summerhall, Edinburgh until 25th August 2023.

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