EdFringe 2021 Review: Fear of Roses ★★★★

Drawing inspiration from classic femme fatale and pulp narratives, Fear of Roses from Black Bat Productions takes the story of an office underdog and gives it a darkly comedic crime twist. Written and directed by Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller, who also brings Press to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Fear of Roses is a punchy, effective ride with a delightful array of cat and mouse powershifts.

Centring on three female protagonists, Fear of Roses sees ruthless and cruel bank manager Tabby (Amy Gilbrook) blackmailed into robbing her own bank by the mysterious Keely (Sophie Boyle). However, Tabby’s frustrated and exhausted assistant Nicolette (Dominika Ucar) is unwittingly drawn into the plot, which builds to crescendo packed with violence, manipulation, and betrayal.

Fear of Roses is an impressively staged piece from its opening moments which establish the awkward shared history between Nicolette and Tabby – two former university friends now split by the power divide of boss and assistant. Tabby is cold and needlessly cruel with Nicolette continually put-down, despite carrying the bulk of Tabby’s workload – as well as manning the bank’s security in the evenings. Echoes of texts such as 9 to 5, Mildred Pierce and classic neo noir are felt shimmering through the narrative – and as an audience we are naturally invested in Nicolette’s challenge to be recognised and appreciated by her callous employer.

With Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller utilising simple but effective staging – the set-up of an office environment – elements of intrigue are carefully added into the Fear of Roses from the arrival of Keely, a domineering figure shrouded in mystery, yet boasting the ability to take Tabby down. From this moment, the pace of the narrative is quickened and the scales of power are continually switched by our trio of characters ensuring that Fear of Roses never veers into the expected or predictable.

Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller captures a tone that manages to blend elements of noir – troubled heroines, betrayal, revenge and intricate plotting – with a comic darkness, aided by skilled performances from all three actresses ensuring this is convincing. Dominika Ucar’s Nicolette manages to be sympathetic yet avoids falling into the stereotype of the meek, trodden-on assistant. We get the sense that Nicolette is exhausted by Tabby – reluctantly following her demands, yet there is an undercurrent of strength bubbling away. Amy Gilbrook brings a sense of slight camp to ruthless Tabby with her flippant managerial behaviour, yet has no trouble conveying a more serious, desperate side to the character as the narrative calls for it. Sophie Boyle is impressive in a smaller role as Keely bringing an intimidating energy to the unsettling character.

Fear of Roses is a strong slice of darkly-comic noir with committed turns from its three leading ladies. Hitting the right tonal notes between broodingly tense and tongue-in-cheek, this is a punchy and well plotted piece that entertains for its near-hour long runtime.

Fear of Roses plays at the Assembly Roxy Aug 8-10, 12-17, 19-26. Check here for tickets.