The second 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 eating disorders, sexual assault, domestic abuse, childhood trauma.
Eat Your Heart Out
Paradise at Augustine’s, Studio
From the Scottish P.E. teacher, through the obligatory post-GCSE initiation to Reading Festival, to moments where the protagonist, Bell, is hurt and feeling alone, the rituals of school days play out in a way reminiscent of our own school days. Describing Chantel as a best friend, Nicole as an enemy (or frenemy) and Liam as the nearest thing to a boyfriend, the play focuses on exploring the messiness of teenage relationships as shown through Liam’s ukulele song about him and Bell’s dalliances in the bike shed (dedicated to both Nicole and Bell). A character called Jordon fades into the background until his significance is made when the missed Bella Italia dates, missing Nutella jars, and #shreddedforsummer Insta videos pile up around Bell’s 18th birthday. The most brutal moment comes at the point where family try to help, but the doctor states that Bell’s BMI is not low enough to be referred for anorexia. The use of sound stands out throughout the performance; from mobile phone vibrations to the sound of rain, to ‘Crazy in Love’, all generated by the performers themselves. From the happy and humorous beginning, Eat Your Heart Out by Tightrope Productions sheds light on the realities of living with an eating disorder and the pressure to be ‘Strong. Smart. Hot.’
Spaces by Breathless Theatre follows the four interweaving stories of Lucy, Drew, Juliet and Maya. It begins with every character filling out a form with their personal details – checking boxes is used as a device that offers an in-depth exploration of their identities, interrogating matters of race, religion, mental health and sexuality through the characters and their relationships. The performance I attended was advertised as a ‘relaxed performance’ which meant that the house lights were up, and the music was quieter. This was done to make the performance more accessible, without affecting the enjoyment of the piece. The interaction between characters felt natural, with smooth transitions between scenes, allowing you to feel as if you were also in the club toilets, or at a friend’s house after a night out. We are taken from the moments of meeting, through to the closeness of university friendship at a time where intense bonds are built through shared secrets and confessions. The play encourages us to question the assumptions one might make based on faith as well as those made about sexuality – its honesty is something we should all take forward into our own relationships with friends and family. Part play, part sketch show, Spaces incorporates spoken word and physical theatre to create a dynamic experience that is both poignant and funny.
Hymns for Robots by Noctium Theatre
Telling the true story of the woman behind the Doctor Who theme tune, Hymns for Robots from Noctium Theatre features Jessie Coller as Delia Derbyshire, and Charles Craggs as her colleague Brian Hodgson. The story deals with the difficulties of Derbyshire’s life as a woman in the industry, and how even after having secured a position in the BBC’s Radiophonics Workshop, her work is continually undervalued and disregarded. Not being seen as a composer, with her work referred to as “special sounds” instead of music, attempts to progress her career are met with criticism of her work as too sexual. Questioned about marriage, children and her temper when menstruating, it is revealed in an interview that she was only offered the position of a receptionist. The BBC don’t even credit the work by name, instead it states ‘by the Radiophonics Workshop’. Interspersed with snippets of radio interviews, the story is accompanied by the same style of score as the sci-fi theme tune. Dressed in a black dress evocative of the 1960s, our protagonist wears a dark almost-black lipstick, creating a picture of an anachronistic, futuristic woman. The show is hypnotic in its combination of storytelling and spacey sounds, dancing to music created by the rims of wine glasses, with humour created in the relationship between Delia and Brian. The show covers some other romantic and platonic relationships, but the focus is on her career and at the end we are treated to a glimpse of the real Delia Derbyshire, who took her inspiration from the sky of stars and comets.
The Edge of You
TheSpace @ Jury’s Inn
Written and directed by Rebecca Robin, The Edge of You by Off Kilter Theatre is the first show at the Fringe with an explicitly Scottish cast. It tells the story of two characters called Grace and James, who meet at a pharmacy before we follow the developments of their relationship as it becomes more serious. Perhaps the most striking element of the show is that the thoughts of each character are voiced by two more actors, maintaining a distance between the dialogue and their conflicting thoughts. This juxtaposition creates laugh-out-loud lines at the start, but as their relationship becomes more serious, so does the tone of the play, to a point where I felt tears well up in my eyes. It is a familiar story of moving on from one relationship to another, exploring fears of attachment and how to love without losing yourself. There are beautiful lines that appear almost poetic and the movements used to convey their sexual relationship capture the intimacy – or the lack thereof – and the affection in their eyes feels true. The conflict arises when James seems to blame the patriarchy on one hand yet uses similes like ‘elastic band’ to express himself – a phrase originating from Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. The piece would be better suited to a raised stage, as I missed some of the floor work, and even though I felt that the ending was too neatly tied up, the show was successful in portraying how ‘beautifully terrifying’ love can be.
Good Vibes Only
TheSpace @ North Bridge
The Norwich-based Laughing Mirror Theatre Company presents Good Vibes Only, written by Charlotte McEvoy, a recent UEA graduate. Set in Doris’ sex shop, an establishment that is soon to be shut down, it features Gareth, a boy on work experience with erectile dysfunction; Amber, who is asexual and enjoys pleasuring herself; as well as Joseph, who seems to be the fount of all knowledge. A show with a message, it aims to eliminate the stigma of talking frankly about sex and use of sex toys in a bid to improve sex education. It explores the strangely gendered ways society thinks about sex, from the expectation that men masturbate but women don’t, that women use sex toys, but heterosexual men don’t. Created through interviews with people about sex, it features snapshots of both real and imagined experiences. There is enough humour for it not to be too preachy, especially packed full of hilarious puns, sexual innuendo, and questions like ‘What am I going to do with all these butt-plugs?’
Underbelly Cowgate, Big Belly
As anyone who has ever been to a silent disco knows, there’s something about wearing headphones that alters the way you experience sound. In Thrown by Jodi Gray, this experience is heightened with its use of binaural sound, whereby distance is created by performer Jill Rutland’s movements, creating the intimate experience of having her whisper in your ear. Created in partnership with Living Record Productions, the play looks at loss of memory and consciousness, through collections of stories from older people taken from outreach workshops. The narrative focuses on the experience of Dr Constance Ellis, yet we are only ever given fragments of the story: pieces of the puzzle to assemble ourselves. The performance is truly captivating, as something darker lurks beneath the question of ‘When did you know you were no longer a child?’ Through questioning, they search for memories with the aim to extract childhood trauma from women to understand child psychology. Snapshots of seaside scenes perfectly capture the feeling of nostalgia, with sound having a strong presence throughout the piece. At other times, the role of gender becomes apparent, looking back at the messages girls are given from a young age from an adult perspective, through questions such as ‘Have you no shame?’ when playing and exposing underwear. The language is humorous at times, but it’s mostly filled with intensity, fusing storytelling with the poetic. This show is inevitably a Fringe highlight and I highly recommend it.
Losing my Mindfulness
Natural Food Kafe
When I arrived at the venue, the show had started early, possibly to give the piece the authenticity of a real workshop on mindfulness. Further latecomers created more comedy value, as did my presence as a reviewer, tapping notes into my phone (someone even thought I was part of the show… I mean, who would be that rude?). Inspired by true events and written and performed by Katie McLeod in the role of Serena, she uses the structure of a mindfulness workshop to explore the difficult topic of emotionally abusive relationships. Inevitably, the humour strays to some dark places, especially when one member of the audience reads out work bestie Sarah’s “quiz” about emotional abuse. We have already been told about the man-child fiancé Tom, and there is even the suggestion of coercive control from a phone call from Halifax, yet through this we see a checklist of points that Serena ticks off one by one with a humorous back-and-forth that gets increasingly more serious. The performance draws on situations which can skew the way we see love, the way we rewrite the definition of love to include the things which are the exact opposite. Overall, the show is skilfully crafted to keep you laughing the whole way through, but also leave you feeling like you’ve been stabbed in the heart, although in a good way. This show proves that PBH Free Fringe events have the same high quality you can expect from paid shows. At the end of the show we are left with a resolution that offers hope for the future, with the show opening up the conversation about this kind of abuse.
Clay Nikiforuk: Fun to be Around
Grassmarket Project, Meeting Room
The performance begins with Clay Nikiforuk telling us that this is not a stand-up show, but a combination of comedy, storytelling and research. All based on true events, Fun to be Around is a story of survival, a story that had to be written after the loss of her friend to suicide. The show is bookmarked by the participation in a study, and in between we get a timeline of events that make-up her journey to where she is today. She talks about a type of recovery where the labelling of mental illness is explored in terms of symptoms being a human response to life. The audience is quiet that night, but in all honesty, this show deserves a full crowd of rapturous laughter. It is not a stand-up show, but Clay’s ability to create laughter from such dark places is a definite strength. I found I related to much of what she talked about in terms of being high-functioning despite what is going on internally, or behind closed doors. In Nikforuk’s case, this is psychosis. The show examined the role of gender, from reclaiming the words ‘bitch’ and ‘crazy’ to a doctor asking her what is more important: happiness or sex? It’s not until later in her life that she comes out, and her string of drug-dealer boyfriends includes one who sexually assaults her in her sleep. She is deemed the crazy one for thinking this is a problem: ‘for thinking our bodies are ours’. This piece portrays how our lives can change in one moment but urges us to see someone’s condition as separate to the core of their being, to still see them as ‘fun to be around’.
Featured image credit: Laura Suarez
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