Including a French love affair, the imprisoned wife of a beekeeper, three pregnant Medeas and a talking panda, Palimpsest One presents three pieces of new writing - and a Strindberg thrown in for good measure. With these unusual premises and characters in the mix, I’d expected something really off-beat and experimental from this Camden Fringe platter of short theatre. Some were stronger than others, and while the pieces on offer were generally played well and had promising concepts, all seemed to play it safe and could have done a bit more in terms of boundary-pushing. Perhaps with slightly sharper acting and on-stage energy, they would have been more successful, but the overall result was more placid than provoking.

The Stronger opens the evening with a short Strindberg play about two French women in a cafe. It gradually becomes obvious that the guilty woman - who, it transpires, has had an affair with the other’s husband - has not and will not say a single word throughout. Perhaps it’s because this sort of subject is no longer scandalous, but leaving Emilija Ellen without a single line - even one final shocker to close on - made her character drab rather than mysterious. Minna Pang comes across as convincingly French and graceful, but for me, there was no helping the fact that this slightly dated play is about a petty, largely uninteresting domestic matter.

The three pieces of new writing, at least, had more interesting concepts and material to work with, which allowed the evening to take a quirkier, ‘fringier’ turn. Medea Pastiche (An Excerpt), written by Mima Vulovic, sets a feminist tone that runs through all of the remaining pieces. In form, this was the most inventive, using poetic references to the myth of Jason and Medea, and three women (Sarah Hunt, Roisin Rae, and Ain Rashida Sykes) chanting cryptic lines in canon. The piece’s meaning is not entirely clear, but I gathered from their pregnant bellies, baby clothes and building blocks that their collective rage was directed against motherhood and the oppression of women through childbirth and the home. It’s interesting material, but it could have had a bit more punch to it - and suffered occasionally from being a bit unpolished.

The Beekeeper’s Wife extends the idea of female confinement and takes it to a darker level. In this piece, a Beekeeper keeps his wife chained to a chair, “for her own safety”, until one day, she reveals that she has taken control of her own life. With some cute beehive/household analogies and an exploration of the ethics of captivity and marriage, this piece definitely has potential, and its dark edge gives it a provoking relevance. I do feel, however, that it could have gone further: Jack Bennett could have been a bit nastier or creepier as the beekeeping husband, as he came across a bit too nice to be truly distasteful. Claire Redcliffe, however, managed to be adorable and menacing at once - all eyes were on her engaging face.

Finally, Frisky and the Panda Man was definitely the stand-out piece of the evening. What began as a more or less banal interview scene between Dr Ogden, the panda keeper (Kevin Hand) and a silent Nicola Kill as a journalist - echoing the one-sided dialogue tactic of Strindberg’s piece - took a sudden turn to the bizarre. Dr Ogden is all earnest and chatty, but then Frisky, the world’s last remaining panda, begins to talk, and points out that he is avoiding “the real issue”. The shocked and fearful look on the journalist’s face signals that this story is about to get a whole lot juicier than a few bamboo shoots, with some creepy-yet-funny bestiality references. Billie Vee as the panda was easily my favourite character of the night. While dressed in ‘human’ clothing, there is something unsettlingly animal about her mannerisms, chewing on celery sticks and emitting the occasional yelp. When she begins to talk, we begin to see the relationship between the keeper and the animal through the distorted eyes of Dr Ogden, who has come to see Frisky as his own companion.

There is definitely promising material here, and thankfully, Palimpsest One managed to pick out a unifying theme to tie these different plays together. Some were quirkier and more entertaining than others, but I can’t say that any of the pieces really knocked my socks off. They just needed a little something more - more energy, more humour, more polishing, or maybe just edgier writing - to push these pieces from enjoyable to fantastic.

Palimpsest One, at Upstairs at GatehouseKate Mason reviews Palimpsest One at the Camden Fringe.3