The first instalment of a series of short summaries of a wide variety of performances, from the comedic to the dramatic to the bizarre, direct from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Each entry is preceded by the title of the work in question, and the venue(s) at which it is being performed as part of the Fringe.
Content warning: mentions suicide, sexual assault
Zoo Charteris, Aviary
The show begins with an image of the birth certificate stating: Rosy Patience Carrick. We get to know the protagonist first through the fuzzy screen, reminiscent of a VHS being played, with rainbow colours replaced by images of childhood and a montage of images from her life. Rosy takes to the stage, donning 3D glasses. Though a show about time travel may attract audiences who are fans of the sci-fi films Carrick references by stepping into different elements of related costume, it was also immediately accessible to others. Others like me, who could relate to the fascinating conception of sleep (a type of cryogenic freezing, Carrick asserts) or the conflict between the past you who drinks too much alcohol and the future you who suffers the consequences. I could very much relate to Carrick’s self-confessed light-hearted stalker-ish tendencies, and her ability to create humour throughout the piece, as well as the more poetic moments, such as knowing ‘how painful it is to lose yourself in someone else’s reflection.’ Aside from this, it is very much a show about time travel, and the story is beautifully crafted to keep audience members engrossed throughout, wondering what connections will be made between the multiple versions of Rosy, Mayakovsky’s poetry, and the elusive ‘Year Solver’. At one point, the text displayed on screen seems to move in exact time to the music, the letters dancing in front of your eyes. What we return to by the end (for being a time travelling story, one must return to find completion) are the David Bowie lyrics ‘Oh love, you’re not alone’, a fact always to be remembered, etched in tattoo form on Carrick’s wrist; and another lesson: never go back to a fuckboy.
Underbelly, The Dairy Room, Bristo Square
Written by Jennifer Roslyn Wingate and directed by Laura Clifford, in association with The White Bear Theatre, this drama unravels a relationship that is a tangled web of childhood memories and years of estrangement. Sam, aged 19, confronts his stepmother, Barbara, with the goal of bringing out what has been brushed under the carpet his whole life. By the end of the performance, I am taken to a completely different place emotionally, moved from a black-and-white frame of mind, to one that has been opened up to the grey areas of familial relationships. Initially, the relationship between them is unclear. It is evident that Barbara plays the role of a caregiver, yet there are sexual undertones throughout. Gradually and subtly, the complexities of their relationship unveil themselves and I am left feeling disturbed, without a neat way to tie up the narrative. These Fringe debutantes deliver a captivating performance in this world premiere that looks at sexual violence and familial relationships from a new perspective.
How To Be Amazingly Happy
Pleasance Courtyard, Below
Victoria Firth makes her debut performance by setting herself the ultimate challenge: to find happiness, identity, belonging and purpose. The narrative is well-crafted, using a mixture of storytelling, text written on large white card, voice over, lip-syncing, dancing and more. The subject matter of womanhood and childlessness is weaved in and out of Firth’s attempts at running, clowning and tap-dancing. The show is accompanied by statistics like ‘of women born in 1946 just 9% had no children at 45, for those born in 1971 this figures doubles to 18%’, and ‘approximately 3.5 million people in the UK have difficulty conceiving, around 1 in 7 couples. Over 47,000 women are currently receiving IVF. The treatment has a 70% failure rate.’ Many will appreciate the difficulties Firth faces. What’s more, her girlfriend breaks up with her time and time again, no matter how many cakes she is able to bake. Although this type of humour will most suit those who enjoy references to the TV comedy ‘Miranda’ and who can relate to comparisons of life to a game of ‘Deal or No Deal’, you can’t help but smile at Firth’s positivity and determination. By the end, the audience are uplifted with the knowledge that when it comes to life and all it encompasses, nobody knows the answer, and that’s okay.
Underbelly, Jersey, Bristo Square
Two women’s lives come together when considering the control over our own bodies and the right to abortion. For one of these women, a Somali refugee, this consideration comes too late; she is found to have committed suicide following her rape, unable to gain help from the institution she is placed in. There is little emphasis on this character, though what unfolds is said to give voice to this woman and all women who need to fight for the rights of the own bodies. Written by Laura Wyatt O’Keeffe, whose great granduncle was the Irish revolutionary Michael Collins, it focuses on the relationship between Maya (played by O’Keefe), whose tweet about needing an abortion goes viral, and journalist David (played by Edward De Gaetano), who becomes strangely involved in telling her story to the point where they share a twin hotel room, though the sexual tension is not quite intense enough to produce a suggestion of any romantic possibilities. This show highlights the recent success of the referendum to repeal the 8th amendment in the Republic of Ireland, legalising abortion up to 12 weeks into pregnancy, as well as the fact that in Northern Ireland the procedure remains illegal. Throughout the show, there is also the question of who has the agency of telling this story, and gradually, Maya claims the power of her own words.
Assembly Rooms, Front Row
Dysney Disfunction from Norwich’s own Hack Theatre is one of my highlights of the Fringe so far. It tells the story of Alice (played by Michelle Sewell), an Australian immigrant living in London, her visa about to expire after two years. The play draws on autobiographical experiences, as Michelle’s own visa is due to expire this October. Alice is left with only one way to stay in the country: marry her boyfriend. Although the pair are constantly breaking up and getting back together, because it’s ‘more exciting’, Alice risks it all amongst her flurry of questions about the loved-up couples’ saying ‘when you know, you know.’ Disney clichés are contrasted with the realities of modern-day acts of romance, from chopping onions to buying tampons. The humour is laugh-out-loud funny, especially for those who can relate to the joys of period sex, binge drinking, and meeting partners on dating apps – Alice remarks on Bumble’s rule that women message men first that ‘It’s not Tinder, it’s Feminism’. We get a deeper insight into her psyche through videos that gradually reveal the Brothers Grimm version of her own Disney fairytale, as we learn why she has been unable to orgasm her whole life, and why it was so easy for the UK to become her home when she has left so much pain behind.
Greenside @ Infirmary Street, Forest Theatre
Johnny Autin, creative director of Autin Dance Theatre, brings three performers on stage as part of Queer Words: Bethany Slinn, Joshua Toft-Wild, and Oliver Sale. They stand in angular poses, their outfits gender nonconforming, beginning the exploration of gender, sexuality and all things LGBTQ+ through storytelling, spoken word, dance and physical theatre. It is thought-provoking, funny, touching, and at times educational. Near the start we are taken through some of the ‘Queer Alphabet’, including words like agenda, cis-gender, dyke, erasure, femme, intersex, monosex, pansexual, and more, with interludes including singing scales of ‘faggot’ and ‘lezzer’. There is a moment of unexpected audience participation with the question ‘Do you spit or swallow?’, provoking some hesitation until someone says replies ‘a bit of both babe, what about you?’ The rest of the audience concur. Slinn delivers a beautiful rendition of Amy Winehouse’s Stronger Than Me, and although the idea of emotional labour is touched upon with these ideas, there is also a critique of the lyrics, with Slinn pausing at the especially problematic question ‘Are you gay?’ At some point, I felt I wanted to see more of Slinn, and the show did not disappoint, giving voice to her as a demisexual who ‘just likes people for people’ rather than a particular gender. The relationship between each of the performers is strong, and especially the intimacy between Toft-Wild and Sale as the lean on one another, balancing on each other, faces coming close together to fall on each other’s shoulders. Each offer snapshots of different LGBTQ+ experiences, exploring how power and gender can play out in all kinds of relationships, from Toft-Wild’s repetition of ‘sir’ in an exploration of sexual submission, to Sale’s ode to the colour yellow, allowing him to say ‘yes’ to in-between.
TheSpace @ Surgeon’s Hall
Grit & Grace Theatre present writer and performer Stacey Devonport’s Nomad, which tells the story of Laura, an aspiring photographer and office temp. Beginning on her 30th birthday, we are taken back and forth in time through a mixture of storytelling and animation, with one of the most beautiful scenes being a glittering cityscape of London at night. We can see that on this landmark occasion, life is not all as expected for Laura. The relationship with her university boyfriend Will seems nonexistent, her job is unfulfilling, and she doesn’t seem to have many close connections beyond their dog Roy. Despite the place where Laura finds herself in this moment, one of the most touching parts of the show is when her parents – working class, and initially unsupportive and mocking of her ambitions – celebrate the success of her being accepted into university in London to study photography. What is really at the centre of Laura’s story is her friendship with Scottish childhood bestie Danni, who follows her own path to happiness and encourages Laura to do the same. The question is whether she will be able to let go and move forward.
Featured image credit: Anthony O’Neil
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