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EDINBURGH 2016 - BWW Review: LIFE ACCORDING TO SAKI, C, 5 August

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Hector Hugh Munro, better known as Saki, a writer of delightfully improper short stories with all the wit of Oscar Wilde. His life and death are commemorated in a new play written by Katherine Rundell and brought to the Fringe by Atticist Productions.

In Life According to Saki, we find the writer in the trenches of World War One, having enlisted in the army despite being officially too old to serve. Facing a trip over the top, the play presents Saki reflecting on the wisdom he has accumulated about life via a trip through some of his best-loved stories.

The overall effect is somewhat reminiscent of Man of La Mancha, with soldiers instead of prisoners acting out the anarchically optimistic imaginations of the writer who shares their desperate position. The well-disciplined ensemble conjure up each short story in turn, playing mischievous bachelors, domineering great-aunts and even the occasional cheetah with great aplomb.

There are plenty of laughs throughout, as Saki's stories are splendidly witty, with recurring themes of disrupting the serene Edwardian milieu, and puncturing the egos of self-important characters, which link in neatly with the audience's introduction to the real man - who we learn resisted any attempts to use his background to place him above his fellow soldiers.

While the linking material of Saki in the trenches does not have the same beautifully economic language that so characterised his writing, it is effective and builds toward a moving conclusion, while retaining the sense of mischief that permeates his stories. All of this is imaginatively staged with a simple but effective set representing the trenches, and projection, lighting, excellent live sound effects and the occasional puppet used to bring the stories to life.

If you have read anything by Saki, you will no doubt enjoy seeing his wonderful stories brought to life in such an entertaining fashion, as well as learning more about the man behind the mischief. If you've never come across Saki's work before, this highly entertaining production will serve as an excellent introduction to the master of the short story form.

Life According to Saki runs at C until 29 August (not 15) at 2.15pm

Illustration: Chris Riddell



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