Review: Optimism ***

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Stage at Leeds, Leeds University

As we will never tire of reporting, there are good things happening in Yorkshire fringe theatre.

Uncanny Theatre company is another, following in the wake of the likes of Unlimited and Paper Birds, whose ambition has potential to outgrow the size of the company. Uncanny’s latest show, Optimism, is a dark and twisted tale of desire and what happens when unrequited love crosses the border into something more sinister.

Performed by Uncanny’s three founding members, Natalie Bellingham, Nikolai Calcoen and Matt Rogers, the story takes us into the dark corners where the logic of a lovesick girl goes like this: “I like this man, this man likes sheep, I’ll become a sheep”.

That kind of absurdity runs through a show which has flashes of inspired moments.

More often than not it drags, despite its short running length, the stories too slight or too absurd to hang together.

The saving grace of the show comes from Natalie Bellingham, an intensely gifted performer whose clowning skills occasionally reach the sublime. Calcoen makes a wise decision and tries not to match Bellingham, Rogers does, and fails.

It makes for an oddly disjointed show where the constituent parts are rarely working in harmony, but in the moments when Bellingham is clowning and Calcoen playing her foil, it soars – and gives reason to remain optimistic about the future of Yorkshire theatre.

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